PNE play-off battle will go to wire

Tom Barkhuizen had a seven days to remember with four goals in his first three starts
Tom Barkhuizen had a seven days to remember with four goals in his first three starts
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Tom Barkhuizen thinks there is plenty of life left in the Championship play-off race.

Preston North End’s man of the moment has scored four goals in his first three Lilywhites starts, including two in the 3-0 win over Reading on his full home debut.

A fourth straight Deepdale victory lifted Simon Grayson’s men within six points of the top six ahead of the trip to Blackburn on Saturday.

Fulham look like the side to watch though, Slavisa Jokanovic’s men following up their 3-1 win over North End by beating leaders Newcastle United by the same scoreline on Saturday .

But the Cottagers were held 2-2 by Rovers on Tuesday night.

“I think it’s going to be really tight,” said Barkhuizen. “I think Fulham will definitely sneak in there – they’re the best team I’ve seen this 
season. But who knows? If Reading are fifth and we’re beating them 3-0, anything can happen.

“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves though, we know that each game is going to be really difficult.

“We’re not putting pressure on ourselves to make the play-offs we’re just taking it game by game and we look ahead to Blackburn where hopefully we can pick up another three points.

“If we keep doing that and other teams drop points then who knows where we’ll be come the end of the season?”

Saturday’s double saw Barkhuizen lead the line alongside Jordan Hugill.

The versatile former Morecambe man had previously featured on both the left and right wings and as a right wing back but is likely to be deployed through the middle again at Ewood Park.

“Considering I haven’t really played there for a long time it was nice to have a little bit of freedom,” said the 23-year-old. “You know Jordan is going to occupy two defenders and it gave me a little bit more breathing space to either get it in to feet or exploit them in behind.

“I thought we worked really well as a partnership up front and who knows, maybe there’s more to come.”

After impressing in five substitute appearances, Barkhuizen’s impact from the start has been immediate.

With pace to burn, the ex-Blackpool youngster believes he has adapted quickly, having had six weeks with the squad before he officially became a Preston player on January 1.

“It was really important for me to get six or seven weeks under my belt to get used to the step up,” he said.

“It was always going to be difficult jumping up two leagues and it helped me get to know the lads and they got used to how I play.

“I’m just happy that I’ve been able to get in the starting XI and hopefully I can stay there.”