Exclusive Tom Clarke column

I was at the PFA awards last weekend
I was at the PFA awards last weekend
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I imagine the butterflies will be swimming about in the bellies of all Preston supporters this week as we prepare for Sunday’s huge game away to Colchester United.

As we all know, a victory over the U’s at the Western Homes Community Stadium will guarantee automatic promotion to the Championship from League One.

We know we can’t afford any slip-up, as MK Dons are breathing down our necks and will move above us if they defeat Yeovil Town at home and we fail to beat Colchester.

While I am sure our fans’ nerves are getting more frayed by the day, they can rest assured that there will be no nerves in the away dressing room on Sunday.

We are just looking forward to the game now – in fact, I can’t wait for it.

It’s a chance to get our 26th win of the season and achieve our target of getting this great club back to where it belongs in the upper echelons of English football.

That was always the aim at the start of the season and we are so close to completing that objective.

To be honest, nothing has felt too out of the ordinary for me this week in terms of our preparations for the game.

Training has been nice and relaxed, although obviously there is no getting away from the fact that it is a huge weekend for us.

I think situations like these are where our manager Simon Grayson’s past experiences very much comes into play.He has been here many times before – particularly in this division.

Everybody knows he has achieved promotion from League One with each of the three previous clubs that he has managed.

Obviously, I played under him when Huddersfield went up via the play-offs in 2012 and the manager is very calm in these situations.

His calmness passes down to the players – we’ve got some young players and some experienced ones – and I think that his level-headedness has helped us throughout the season and more so towards the end.

We had a little wobble earlier this month with the two draws against Gillingham and Port Vale, when we led in both games.

That saw our lead over MK Dons whittled down from five points to one and in the dressing room after those games, it felt like we had been beaten because we should have been out of sight at half-time. But that’s the thing about this division – it’s so dificult and every team fights.

I chatted to a few of the Bournemouth lads at the PFA Awards Dinner on Sunday night and they were saying that League One is a really difficult division to get out of.

But once you do get out of it, the Championship is where you want to be.

There are some big clubs in that division and once we get there, who knows what can happen?

You only have to look at what Bournemouth have achieved this season by winning promotion to the Premier League.

Since those two draws against the Gills and Vale, we have responded well by picking up two excellent wins over Notts County away and then on Saturday against Swindon at Deepdale.

Colchester will be no pushovers and they have plenty to play for as they fight to avoid relegation to League Two.

We beat them at Deepdale 4-2 earlier in the season, but I remember being quite impressed by them.

On a personal note, I was thrilled this week to be named in League One’s PFA team of the season, along with Joe Garner.

It’s the first time I have received such an accolade and to be recognised by my fellow professionals is a great feeling.

I have probably enjoyed one of the most consistent periods of my career and it was also a honour to be handed the captaincy by the manager.

Being around people like Eden Hazard and Harry Kane at the awards night at the Grosvenor Hotel, in London was a great buzz. Even just talking to some of the Championship players on Sunday – it’s given me a taste for more.

By the way, winning promotion will give me double reason to celebrate this summer – my wife is expecting our first child in the coming weeks.