Exclusive Sean Gregan column: Preston North End deserve to stand toe to toe with Championship’s ‘big’ clubs like Blackburn Rovers and Leeds United

Tom Barkhuizen after scoring against Leeds United
Tom Barkhuizen after scoring against Leeds United

I have heard a few people say this season that anybody who finishes above Leeds United in the Championship will get promoted – and I probably would not disagree.

That is why I think Preston’s point against Marcelo Bielsa’s men in midweek at Deepdale is a good one, even if they were just a few minutes away from winning.

Tom Barkhuizen’s goal looked to have given North End their sixth home win in seven but unfortunately for the hosts, Leeds equalised through Eddie Nketiah three minutes from time.

That goal kept Leeds in second spot in the table and stopped PNE from leapfrogging above them.

Of course Tuesday night’s game was a battle between two of my former clubs. I spent three years at Elland Road between 2004 and 2007 and it is a very big club.

It’s one-city club, it’s got the fan-base, the history but what I would say is it can be a very tough place to play for a home player.

The fans demand so much. Obviously when things are going well and the crowd is right behind you – there is no better place to play. When I was there, it was both an enjoyable time but also difficult time.

It was a chance to play for a big club like Leeds United, but my time coincided with them just after their relegation from the Premier League.

The club had been in the Champions League semi-finals a couple of years before and there was a lot of rawness around the place among the supporters after dropping out of the Premier League.

The supporters, at that time, had the mind-set that they should be challenging for European honours, not trying to get out of the Championship.

It was a tough place to play, very demanding but 
also a privilege to play for such a big club.

They have not been in the top flight now for such a long time and I think it’s the expectation which ultimately proves to be their downfall.

I lost in a play-off semi-final while playing for Leeds, and last year they looked like they were going up before they faltered again at the end. But I can see them doing it this season. Bielsa’s a good manager and has got them well organised.

The fact that PNE got a point against them, especially after the disappointment of losing to Reading at the weekend, shows how far PNE have come. Like I have said before, North End have had a great start and it helps that the majority of players have been there a few years now.

They know what the 
manager wants and at the moment everything is 
looking good.

They have got Blackburn Rovers at Deepdale this weekend and they should be looking to get the three points.

Rovers are a different animal to the club I remember when I was a player.

They were the big Premier League club from these parts – they still had the Jack Walker money.

But things change and PNE go into the game as the favourites to win.