PNE ready to focus on season ahead

Joe Garner will lead Preston's attack in the new campaign
Joe Garner will lead Preston's attack in the new campaign
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Following the glory of last month’s Wembley victory, Preston North End can now fully focus on Championship life following the release of the fixture list.

Middlesbrough at Deepdale to kick off was perhaps the toughest start that PNE could have been handed.

That is bearing in mind Boro finished fourth last season and came within 90 minutes of the Premier League, beaten 2-0 by Norwich in the play-off final.

Aitor Karanka will bring the Teessiders to Lancashire on Saturday, August 8.

The Spaniard is the first of two ex-Real Madrid assistant coaches to grace the Deepdale technical area in the opening weeks of the season.

Karanka was No.2 to Jose Mourinho at the Bernabeu, while newly-appointed Derby County coach Paul Clement until recently assisted Carlo Ancelotti – the Rams visit on September 12.

This is the seventh season on the trot that North End have had a home start.

However, you must go back to when they last played away on the opening day to find a league victory.

That was a 2-1 win against Ipswich at the beginning of the 2008/09 campaign.

A bumper crowd is assured for the visit of Middlesbrough, whose fans traditionally travel in big numbers.

Deepdale’s capacity will be back above 23,000 by then, work being done to repair the broken seats in the front few rows of the Bill Shankly Kop and Alan Kelly Town End.

With Blackburn, Burnley, Bolton, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday on the fixture list, there is plenty of scope to be pushing towards a full house several times.

Ben Rhodes, PNE’s general manager, told the Evening Post: “Reading through the fixture list was pretty exciting and really underlined the hard work put in by the players, staff and everyone behind the scenes last season.

“You look at the fixtures and it does get you wondering how many times we could get a 20,000-plus attendance.

“Two years ago the crowd against Wolves on the opening day was more than 16,500 and we are probably looking at more this time.

“Work is being done at the ground to mend the broken seats and the capacity will be back at 23,404.

“In the main, the fixtures have fallen quite well.

“There are long Tuesday night trips to Charlton and Bristol City but all the derby games are scheduled for a Saturday, as are the trips to Brentford, Queens Park Rangers and Fulham, which are always popular away days.

“Although you don’t get a derby game at Christmas, the trip to Huddersfield on Boxing Day is a short one, then we have two home matches.”

There are international breaks in September, October, November and March – the break in March meaning no Easter games.

PNE have to wait until the last day of October for their first derby, Bolton visiting Deepdale on Halloween.

They host Blackburn Rovers on November 21, then go to Burnley at the beginning of December.

The return games see PNE go to Bolton on March 12, Rovers on April 2, then Burnley visit on April 23.