Exclusive Sean Gregan PNE column

Simon Grayson has done a terrific job in putting PNE within touching distance of the top six
Simon Grayson has done a terrific job in putting PNE within touching distance of the top six
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The international break will give Preston North End the chance to have a rest, take a deep breath and get ready for the last leg of the season.

Although it would take a big swing of results for them to make the play-offs now, there will be no let-up from Simon Grayson on what he demands from the squad.

Even if the top six proves to be a step too far, a strong last eight games is important.

If they can finish well, it sets them up nicely for next season.

No player enjoys the grind of pre-season training after the summer holidays but if you have finished the previous campaign well, it makes it that bit easier.

After North End won the play-off final at Wembley in May last year, I bet they could not wait to get back and start preparing for this season.

There will be players in the PNE squad who can use this last leg of the season to further prove themselves.

There are lads on loan who might fancy a full-time move to Deepdale, one or two will be out of contract in the summer, while others will hope to get an improved deal.

That is good motivation for anyone, while mathematically, the play-offs can still be done.

For that to happen, it would need a team currently in the top six to lose three or four of their last eight games.

That would be unusual when you bear in mind they won’t have lost too many games to be up there in the first place.

What Grayson will say to his players is to try and win as many games as possible and see where that puts them in the final shake-up.

Whatever happens over the next month or so, you cannot deny that it has been an excellent season for PNE.

To be safe at this stage of the season and still within sight of the top six, is very good.

Considering they had that shaky run in late August and for the whole of September, to be where they are now takes some doing.

Preston have consistently picked up points and that has seen them climb the table.

I would guess that next season, the Championship is going to be even stronger.

There are some big clubs going to come down from the Premier League with bigger parachute money than ever before.

Aston Villa are near enough down, then it is two from Norwich, Sunderland and Newcastle.

I would take a punt at the other two being Norwich and Newcastle.

Norwich had a good win at West Bromwich Albion last week but their recent form has been poor.

Jermaine Defoe, for me, makes the difference when choosing between Sunderland and Newcastle.

Defoe is a natural scorer and that is something which Newcastle don’t have.

If it is Newcastle and Villa who are two of the three who come down, how they adapt to the Championship will be very interesting.

Teams will enjoy going to St James’ Park and Villa Park and both will be seen as a big scalp.

Last time Newcastle were relegated, they had players like Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton who had the mentality to get them back up. Have they got characters like that now?

You could ask the same about Villa.

On a personal note, there has been no international break for me. Darlington, where I’m on the coaching staff, have an Easter Monday trip to Whitby to enjoy. The fish and chips will make sitting in the inevitable traffic jam worth while!