Exclusive Sean Gregan PNE column

Sunderland goalkeeper Lee Camp gathers a cross as Josh Earl (right) and Ben Davies challenge
Sunderland goalkeeper Lee Camp gathers a cross as Josh Earl (right) and Ben Davies challenge

Listening to the radio over the weekend, for the first time in quite a while I heard Preston North End being mentioned in a chat about the play-offs.

They seem to have slipped under the radar this season but what they are doing just cannot be ignored.

With eight matches left North End are in eighth place and only two points behind the teams in fifth and sixth.

There is still plenty of work ahead of them but there is no reason why they cannot keep the challenge going.

The two games at Easter will be crucial and hopefully they will be in good shape after that.

It was a good win against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, with yet another goal for Sean Maguire.

What an impact he has made since coming back from his injury and he’s given the whole squad a lift.

Four of Maguire’s goals have come in three victories and his other came in a game PNE were moments away from getting a point from.

So they have been very important goals, not a late consolation or anything like that.

Credit to Paul Gallagher for his delivery of the ball for Maguire’s header which gave Preston the lead.

That is what Gallagher is capable of, he can put the ball in dangerous positions from set-pieces and crosses.

He might not cover the ground he once did but his experience and use of the ball is important.

Looking from the outside in at Sunderland, it doesn’t look great for them.

There is clearly a lot wrong there and two very experienced managers have both struggled.

Simon Grayson lasted only four months and Chris Coleman has not managed to turn things around.

If they dropped down into League One, Sunderland would not be the first 
so-called big name club to do so. Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Southampton and Wolves have been down in the third tier.

Sometimes a club has to fall quite a long way to really bring home the extent of the problems it has.

It didn’t seem long ago that Steve Bruce was in charge at Sunderland and had them close to qualifying for Europe.

Yet he got stick for being a Geordie and sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.

Back to North End and you have to admire their away form this season.

Saturday’s win was their eighth on the road, which is very good going.

Certain players just suit playing in away games and the fact Preston are good on the counter-attack will have brought some good results.

What is impressive is how they have not missed Jordan Hugill too much since his sale to West Ham.

They have adapted well and Maguire coming back when he did has helped.

I see that Hugill has only spent a few minutes on the pitch since he joined West Ham and I do wonder what is the point of paying decent money and hardly using him? Maybe he will get more of a shout before the season ends.