Exclusive Sean Gregan Preston North End column: Race to reach Premier League starts here!

I am sure Preston will be champing at the bit to get back in action today after last week’s inactivity.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 5:00 pm

Of course it was FA Cup fourth round weekend and North End’s defeat at the hands of Norwich City in the previous round meant they had no fixture.

I imagine the PNE players would not have minded any kind of game – cup or league – considering the good little run they had put together.

After the disappointing results over Christmas, Alex Neil’s men have got their season back on track with the dogged draw at Blackburn, followed by two excellent wins over Charlton at home and Barnsley away.

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North End are in fine spirits after an excellent 3-0 victory last time out away to Barnsley

Those results put North End back in the play-off positions in the Championship initially, although Bristol City’s midweek win at Reading saw them drop to seventh – one point outside of the play-offs.

I guess the manager might have quite liked the fact that there was a break in the fixtures.

It’s a chance to give some members of the squad a chance to recover from any niggling injuries they may have had and it just gives an all-round fresh perspective to things.

I am sure Neil would have taken advantage of the opportunity to work on a number of things on the training ground, plus it was also a chance to maybe give the lads a few days off.

You would not say that we are at the business end of the campaign just yet, although it is not far off.

A lot can still change yet. There is still a chance that Preston could get automatic promotion, but they could also drop out of the play-off picture altogether.

There are still a lot of games to be played, points to be won and lost but PNE have set themselves up nicely to have a real go at winning promotion to the Premier League.

A lot of the teams at the top will have to play each other – today’s game at Deepdale a case in point with North End hosting Swansea City.

The Welshmen are a point and a place behind PNE in the table and will be looking to make a return to the Premier League – a place they spent seven consecutive years until their relegation in 2018.

After this weekend, the top-flight clubs – barring those who have an FA Cup replay to play – take a breather for a couple of weeks with the first ever winter break.

Sounds like Liverpool’s stars will be having the full two weeks off, despite the fact that they face a cup replay against Shrewsbury at Anfield. The Reds are going to field a second string for the tie.

To be fair, Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Co deserve a rest after the outstanding season they have produced.

I don’t think anything is going to get in the way of Liverpool winning the title for the first time in 30 years.

A few people have said that this could mark a period of domination for the Reds, but I am not so sure.

There is that much wealth in the Premier League that I expect clubs such as Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea will spend big in a bid to wrestle back the title.