PNE skipper has taste for promotion

Tom Clarke in action in the victory at Notts County this week
Tom Clarke in action in the victory at Notts County this week
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A promotion push has been on Tom Clarke’s agenda since he joined Preston North End two summers ago.

The 27-year-old experienced promotion from this level at Huddersfield in 2012 and one of the driving forces behind his move to Deepdale was a desire to taste it again.

With two games left of the season, Clarke and his North End team-mates have control of their own destiny as far as finishing in the top two is concerned.

Victories against Swindon at Deepdale this weekend and away to Colchester a week on Sunday would see PNE return to the Championship after four seasons away.

MK Dons are right on their shoulder, a point behind with a superior goal difference.

Clarke said: “When I joined Preston I wanted to be involved in every game I could be and be part of a promotion-winning team.

“I knew that with our manager we would be there or thereabouts.

“It was disappointing to miss out last season but we moved on from that and didn’t dwell on it.

“At the start of the season we sat down and talked about the top two being our aim.

“We are now down to it being a two-game season and things are in our hands.

“Our concentration is just on ourselves, all we are looking 
at is winning these last two 

“There is nothing we can do to effect other results. It is in our hands and we want things to stay that way.”

Clarke’s promotion three years ago came when PNE boss Simon Grayson was in charge at Huddersfield.

The skipper believes that Grayson’s experience when it comes to managing promotion-chasing sides can be crucial during the run-in.

Said Clarke: “The gaffer is a really calm person – he’s been the same throughout the season.

“Him and his staff have created a calm environment which passes down to the players.

“You need to have a calm and level head and hopefully that will be the case with us.

“We have some experienced lads who can pass that down to the younger players.

“In turn, the staff are passing down their experience to the more senior players.

“We are all in this together and want the same thing, anyway we can help one another, we will.”

The Lilywhites go into the visit of Swindon on the back of Tuesday night’s win at Notts County.

That 3-1 victory halted a run of three draws, all of which had seen Preston let slip a lead.

Even the win at Notts County was not overly straightforward after they had taken a 2-0 lead.

That deficit was halved by the Magpies who then had a sustained spell of pressure before PNE clinched the win late on.

“It was a massive win for us after what had happened in the games before,” said Clarke.

“We had been disappointed with our second-half displays against Gillingham and Port Vale, so it was vital we got a win. The Notts County game saw two quality finishes from Jermaine Beckford, who is bang in form at the moment.

“I knew what Jermaine was like, having played with him at Huddersfield.

“He’s a hugely important player to us, someone who has weighed in with a lot of goals.

“We want Jermaine to carry that on in these last two games.

“At the other end of the pitch we need to get back to keeping clean sheets.

“The goals we have conceded in recent games are not like us – we have prided ourselves on our clean sheet record.

“We have watched the games back and hopefully taken on board what we can do better.”

Fourth-place Swindon – until very recently right up there in the automatic promotion mix – will be tough opponents this weekend.

They beat North End 1-0 at the County Ground in November with a late goal.

Clarke said: “Swindon like to have a lot of the ball and they usually go three at the back.

“It might be that we need to show quite a lot of patience in the game and wait for gaps to appear.

“But we have the pace in our side and experience up front to be big threat – Beckford, Joe Garner and Paul Gallagher.

“The way Swindon to play is to have plenty of possession and try and pull you out of position.

“That is something we have worked on in training, keeping a good shape and being disciplined.”

One thing which Clarke would dearly like to do before the end of the campaign is get his name on the scoresheet.

He has netted just twice this season, at Coventry in the league and then in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy game at Oldham. Last season he scored six and is slightly disappointed not to have matched that tally.

“Hopefully I have saved one for Saturday,” said Clarke.

“I’ve got the end of a few crosses and corners this season but they haven’t gone in, for whatever reason.

“I would have got one at Port Vale last week, only for their defender to handle it on the line!

“At first I didn’t think the ref had seen it but thankfully he had done and gave the penalty.

“So my feelings of frustration at not scoring gave way to joy when Joe Garner stuck the penalty away.”