Exclusive Sean Gregan Preston North End column: The three games which will hold key to play-off dream

Lukas Nmecha takes on Birmingham City's Maikel KieftenbeldLukas Nmecha takes on Birmingham City's Maikel Kieftenbeld
Lukas Nmecha takes on Birmingham City's Maikel Kieftenbeld
Three wins in the space of week for Preston North End – you cannot argue with that can you?

PNE had two tough away games, a derby at Blackburn and then last Wednesday’s visit to Middlesbrough.

To get maximum points from those and then to beat Birmingham at Deepdale with a goal in stoppage time, was brilliant.

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At Boro they had to ride their luck a bit, having come under plenty of pressure in the first half.

The game changed with the red card for Daniel Ayala and North End went on to take full advantage.

Coming from behind to beat a Tony Pulis side is quite unusual.

Traditionally if you go a goal down against them, they are hard to play against because of their organisation.

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So to have chased the game, pulled level and then gone on to win was a job very well done.

Against Birmingham, what a way to finish with a last-gasp goal.

We did it back in 2001 in the play-offs – I still tell Mark Rankine that his big toe was offside when he scored!

Sean Maguire was the toast of Preston this time by getting the winner in the 94th minute.

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I bet Maguire was one of the smallest men in the box when the corner came over but he got up highest to head very well.

It wasn’t a simple header, he had to angle it down past the keeper, which isn’t that easy.

Strikers are judged on their goals and another one for Maguire will do him the world of good.

In just a few weeks, PNE have gone from being a side in lower mid-table to one outside the top six only on goal difference.

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Some of the teams around them – Derby and Bristol City – have games in hand but Preston have the points in the bag.

Aston Villa have hit form around the same time as North End and in some ways that could help.

All the focus will be on 
Villa, they will be the club who the pundits talk about due to the expectation on them and their status.

I’m sure that Preston will continue under the radar and that will suit them, it will only be from their own fans where there is expectation.

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They now have a couple of weeks before the next game against Reading because of the international break.

Although they are on a very good run, a breather will do them good. There are a few injuries knocking around and the players who have been playing game 
after game will benefit from a rest.

Reading away is followed by a really big week when they play Sheffield United, Leeds and West Bromwich.

Come out of those three with a decent points haul and it’s game on.

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I think North End will have a clearer picture after those games as to whether they will make the top six.

If they are still in contention, they will have as good a chance as anyone in the final four games.

Isn’t it great to be talking in such a way in light of how they struggled early on?