PNE road trip is up Tom’s street

Tom Clarke will lead PNE at Nottingham Forest
Tom Clarke will lead PNE at Nottingham Forest
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Tom Clarke is eyeing a continuation of Preston North End’s good away form when they make the trip to the City Ground to face Nottingham Forest.

The Lilywhites have taken 21 points from their 17 games on the road this season.

They have had notable wins at Burnley and Wolves, while the defeat at Cardiff 
10 days ago was the first on their travels in the league since December.

Skipper Clarke points out that North End’s away form has been strong throughout his time at the club – they have been comfortable absorbing pressure and hitting teams on the break.

“We are a strong team, hard to beat and that has served us well in the away games,” Clarke told the Evening Post.

“The other week, we were disappointed with the Cardiff result when we didn’t properly turn up in the first half.

“We bounced back with the draw at our place against Brighton on Saturday and now we go away again to face Forest.

“Since I’ve been at the club, our away form has been good.

“We have the players to soak up pressure and attack on the counter which can be very effective playing away.

“It should be a decent game at Forest, they have not been in the best form recently but when you look at their team, squad and history, they are a big club.

“Forest are strong at the back, don’t concede too many goals, so it will be a hard game.

“We have worked on our game in training, had a look at some clips of them – now it is time to put that into practice.”

Victory at Forest would take PNE beyond the 50-point barrier – a tally generally seen as the safety mark.

In reality, North End were safe a few weeks ago, with two of the bottom three getting cut adrift. Their focus is on a possible late run for the 
play-offs, with sixth-place within six points.

That said, they did lose a bit of ground at the weekend, with Cardiff, Birmingham and Ipswich above them, having all won.

“If you had told us at the start of the season that we would be close to 50 points in early March, we would have taken that,” said Clarke.

“This is a strong division with big clubs and if you look at the sides who came up with us, they have found it hard.

“We want to kick on from here and get as many points as we can.

“No one appears to be running away with that sixth position, so why can’t we target it? We are going strongly and our confidence is high.

“Between now and the end of the season, we will aim to put as many points on the board as possible and see where that takes us.”

North End’s goalless draw with Brighton saw Clarke line up in an unchanged side for the fifth game running.

Simon Grayson has favoured a 3-5-2 both home and away of late, with Clarke, Paul Huntington and Bailey Wright forming the back line.

That trio was the bedrock of last season’s promotion success and they have adapted well to the Championship.

Said Clarke: “Myself, Hunts and Bailey have played a lot of games together, we know one another’s games inside out.

“We work hard, put our bodies on the line but we also have a calmness to our play.

“When we got promoted, we were confident in our own ability that we could step up and we have done that.”

The Brighton game saw the defence play in front of Chris Kirkland – the keeper drafted in less than two hours before kick off because Anders Lindegaard was ill. Clarke says the late switch did not affect them and praised Kirkland’s display.

“Chris has played at the highest level so him coming into the side did not present any problems,” said Clarke.

“We are fortunate to have a second-choice keeper with his experience. He trains unbelievably hard and is the first in the gym after training sessions and the last out 
of it.”

Clarke spent 80 minutes of the Brighton game having to watch his step with the referee after picking up an early yellow card for a foul.

The 28-year-old said: “I was disappointed to be booked, the referee made a few strange decisions and I had to watch my step for most of the game.

“Some challenges I would normally have gone in for, I could not make because I didn’t want to risk us going down to 10 men.

“The referee wouldn’t really tell me why it was a yellow which was a bit annoying.”