Five things that will be key in Preston’s push for the Championship play-offs

Preston are just two points shy of the play-off places with eight games to go.
Preston are just two points shy of the play-off places with eight games to go.

With eight games to play Preston North End are just two points shy of the final two play-off places.

Ahead of returning to action at Sheffield Wednesday on Good Friday we take a look at what could make the difference in the race for the top six.

Sean Maguire has been in sensational form since his return from injury.

Sean Maguire has been in sensational form since his return from injury.

Sean Maguire

It’s pretty simple really. Five goals in four games since his return from injury is beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Despite missing four months of the season the Irishman is North End’s top scorer in the league with nine. Has brought a cutting edge and clinical touch that has sometimes been lacking.

Keeping players fit

Alex Neil is only just getting to the stage where he will be able to pick from a completely fully fit squad. Maguire, Greg Cunningham, Ben Davies, Tom Clarke, Declan Rudd, Ben Pearson and many others have all been missing for chunks of the season. If the key men stay fit between now and May 6 it could really make a big difference.

Preston fans know a good run of form from their side at Deepdale will be key.

Preston fans know a good run of form from their side at Deepdale will be key.

Home form

North End have picked up more points on the road than at Deepdale this season, 32 as opposed to 28. But a good run on home soil is needed to help PNE keep in touch with and then potentially break into the top six. A good result at Hillsborough sets up a mouth-watering clash with Derby on Easter Monday, with Leeds, Norwich and Burton still to come to town.

Holding your nerve

Under Alex Neil PNE have been largely fearless, not afraid to take the game to the big-hitters of the division, matching them for large parts. As the season hots up, there will be some huge games and decisive moments. That will be acid test of an emerging squad, whether they can hold themselves together in those key passages of play.

A bit of luck

No matter how good a side is, everyone needs a little bit of assistance along the way. Injuries have already been mentioned but there will be other factors too. Maybe a marginal refereeing call going your way, perhaps a favourable bounce of the ball. Other teams slipping up during the run-in wouldn’t go amiss either. It will all come into play before it’s all said and done.