Exclusive Sean Gregan Preston North End column: Masked man Tom Clarke just like Michael Jackson

Tom Clarke will have felt some discomfort but has only missed one game
Tom Clarke will have felt some discomfort but has only missed one game

Alex Neil will have talked all last week to the Preston players about responding to the loss at Birmingham City.

So to go to Nottingham Forest, win and keep a clean sheet, was in my view the perfect response.

Forest are no mugs, they spent heavily in the summer and are well placed for a reason. Recently they had been scoring goals for fun – to go to Aston Villa and get a 5-5 draw was an eye-opener.

The fact PNE went to the City Ground and stopped them scoring would have pleased Alex Neil no end.

It is one defeat in 11 now which is a great run at any level of football.

Were you to spread that form over the course of the season, you’d be challenging for automatic promotion.

So it’s just a shame North End started the campaign so slowly and are now having to play catch-up.

Steadily they are moving up the division, putting more of a gap between themselves and the team at the bottom.

Looking the other way, there is plenty of ground to make up on the teams in the upper reaches of the table.

But the season is yet to reach the halfway stage so there is still plenty of time –and points – left to push into that top half.

Preston’s battling display at Forest was probably best displayed by the sight of Tom Clarke wearing a mask for the game.

It wasn’t Christmas fancy dress come early, it was so the skipper could protect his broken nose.

Clarke is old-school in his approach and I like that.

Despite having his nose rearranged and some very unpleasant side-effects, he missed only one game.

I’m sure during the game he will have got a whack on his nose or the ball hitting him full in the face.

It is inevitable that you will get a knock on the area you are trying to protect, whether that is your face, on the bandage on your knee or your strapped-up wrist.

You need players with the attitude of Clarke to battle on and ignore the discomfort.

I’m sure he will have been sore afterwards and no doubt will be for the next few weeks, but the three points make it worthwhile.

I liken him to Michael Jackson, who was at North End with me.

Jacko often had a cut head or something stuck up his nose to stop it bleeding, he was the sort of player who was happy to put his head in where it hurts.

Following such a good away win, it would be great if North End could back it up by beating Millwall at home next weekend.

Last season, Millwall were on the fringes of the play-offs but have struggled to find that same form this time.

That is similar to Preston, maybe missing out on the top six had a knock-on effect this time.

Millwall have a tough old cookie as a manager in Neil Harris, someone I regularly used to play against.

Both teams need the points and hopefully it will be North End getting them.

If they did win, it would send them into the games over Christmas in a decent and solid state.