Derby win’s vital for PNE says boss

Preston goalkeeper Chris Maxwell has been overlooked by Wales
Preston goalkeeper Chris Maxwell has been overlooked by Wales
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Preston boss Simon Grayson says tomorrow’s derby clash with Blackburn is ‘crucial’ to his side’s hopes of making the Championship top six.

With nine games left and a six-point gap to make up on the play-off places, there is not too much room for error over the coming weeks.

The Lilywhites got a favour from their hosts in midweek by reason of Rovers’ draw with Fulham, which stopped the Cottagers climbing into sixth place.

But any gratitude will have to be put to one side at Ewood Park, with the bragging rights carrying extra significance.

While North End need the points to stay in touch with the chasing pack, Blackburn want them to help in their fight against relegation.

Grayson said: “It is at this stage where you are down to single figures of games, that if you are a team trying to get into the play-offs or get out of the bottom three, winning matches is crucial.

“I think it’s more important when you are chasing teams above you like we are that you get a win, not quite so much with Blackburn.

“Every point that you can accumulate at the bottom can prove priceless.

“This has the ingredients of being a great game.”

Despite the importance Grayson is attaching to the game in terms of Preston pushing for the top six, he still thinks other clubs have more pressure on them.

“I did say going into the week when we played Fulham, Derby and Reading, that if we came out still in with a shout, that would be a great position to be in,” said Grayson.

“This game at Blackburn is big for numerous reasons but ultimately it is about three points

“There is more pressure on the teams above and below us to get into play-off contention because their budget 
demands that.

“We have a free hit at it – if we make the play-offs it would be brilliant, if not we will still have had a great season.”

North End will have a big following behind them for the 1pm kick-off, with sales of more than 6,000 predicted.

It will not quite match the 6,984 who travelled last year but coming on the back of big numbers at Fulham and Wigan, is very decent.

Grayson reported a clean bill of health from last week’s 3-0 win over Reading.

Tom Barkhuizen came off in that game with cramp in both calf muscles but has trained all week.

Alex Baptiste and Marnick Vermijl are back in training but tomorrow’s game could come too soon for them.

On the international front, PNE keeper Chris Maxwell missed out on a call-up to the Wales squad yesterday despite his good form.

Last week’s clean sheet was his ninth of the season.