Opinion - Festive victory would cap off a year of progress at Preston North End under Ryan Lowe and deserve optimism

Preston North End's Ched Evans celebrates scoring his side's third goal against BlackburnPreston North End's Ched Evans celebrates scoring his side's third goal against Blackburn
Preston North End's Ched Evans celebrates scoring his side's third goal against Blackburn
Preston North End have been on a steady rise since the appointment of Ryan Lowe and their positions come Christmas Day this year and last could be so very different.

This time last year, having played their final game before Christmas, North End were 15th in the league.

They were a side languishing near the bottom for the most part until then and supporters were concerned that they could slip into a relegation battle before the end of the season, as they were six points above the bottom three.

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Fast forward 12 months and it's almost the polar opposite. They go into Saturday's game in the play-off places and are just two points off third and seven off second and an automatic promotion spot.

PNE also go into the game as one of the form sides in the division, with four wins from five, and look to be building and building under Lowe.

Of course the real answers on whether this is a good Championship side or a very good one will come at the end of the season, but a lot can happen in 12 months and it certainly has at Deepdale.

With a load of outgoings in the summer, such as previous regulars like Tom Barkhuizen, Scott Sinclair as well as stalwart Paul Huntington, the club has moved on from previous eras or regimes in terms of managers or head coaches.

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Although Lowe has only had two windows to make adjustments to his squad, he has still been very busy in that time and it would be hard to argue that the squad isn't currently his.

It has adapted to his way of playing and has shown glimpses of what they are capable of with his philosophy but there is still time and room to grow.

A win against QPR on Saturday, and former Blackpool boss Neil Critchley, would be the perfect Christmas present for PNE fans celebrating the holiday and could really set them up for the second half of their season.

In their next four over the festive period they will face bottom side Huddersfield Town, West Bromwich Albion who admittedly have been picking up, and another side struggling for form in Stoke City.

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We’ve seen before that short turnarounds are not necessarily a hindrance to the Lilywhites so they need only get each game right as they go, their fitness should be up to the mark.

Regardless of what people may make of the Championship this season, widely seen as one of the weaker years in terms of strength in the division, it is still ruthlessly unforgiving and any side near the top is still the envy of all of those below. Take nothing away from a side that is able to string results together and maintain form, they can beat only what is put in front of them.

But going into 2023 North End fans can be optimistic. This time last season there was a salvage job on for Lowe in getting the team performing well again and getting the supporters back onside.

Now it is a case of looking up and having a good crack at the play-offs.