‘Play with freedom’ was the message relayed by Preston manager Simon Grayson to his players ahead of the 1-0 victory over Reading at Deepdale on Saturday.
The North End boss is keen to see his side embrace the challenge and expectation of playing in front of their own supporters. Before Saturday, only one of North End’s four previous Championship victories had arrived at Deepdale.
But Grayson sent his men out in an attacking 4-3-3 formation and with licence to attack the Royals.
In particular, the front three of Joe Garner, Will Keane and Adam Reach were given the freedom to roam the pitch.
The tactics proved to have the desired effect as North End produced arguably their best performance of the campaign at Deepdale, if not all season.
The 1-0 final scoreline, courtesy of Joe Garner’s second half penalty, flattered the visitors, as the home side failed to make the most of several clear-cut opportunities.
Despite the lack of a cutting edge in front of goal – apart from Garner’s emphatic spot-kick – Grayson was thrilled with his men’s attacking intent, coupled with their defensive organisation.
Grayson said: “We played 3-5-2 last week at Burnley, but we decided to change it back to 4-3-3 against Reading because we have played okay at home without getting the results. We had to make sure that we were a little bit more positive and try to take the game a little bit more to the opposition, without being too vulnerable on the counter-attack.
“The front three got licence to go wherever they wanted, as long as they were prepared to fill in and do the defensive side of things.
“I thought they did that – I thought they were outstanding.
“We said last week that the result and performance against Burnley should give us confidence because we beat one of the best teams in the division.
“We do tell the players not to be fearful, to express themselves and play with a smile on their faces.
“That is how I want all of my teams to play – be hard to beat but when you’re in that final third, go and express yourselves.”
The win takes North End up to 16th in the Championship and they have lost just once – to derby rivals Blackburn – in the last 10 games.
“We have got a great group of lads here,” he added.
“They are not the most household of names, but they have certainly got a fantastic spirit and togetherness.
“Ultimately, we have got some good players as well.
“They do the jobs for you – everything I ask them to do, they try to do it to the best of their ability.
“We have to work hard, first and foremost, and then see where that takes us.”