PNE bid to take next step in Championship play-off race against Norwich

Preston will hope to have Sean Maguire back in the squad after a hamstring injury
Preston will hope to have Sean Maguire back in the squad after a hamstring injury

Preston manager Alex Neil is looking for the Lilywhites to take the ‘next step’ in their play-off chase when they face his former club Norwich at Deepdale tomorrow.

Victory over the Canaries and some favourable results elsewhere could move them into the top six for the first time since the autumn.

If other games did not go their way but PNE managed to do their job and win, that would still represent a great weekend.

Neil’s men were in the top six from September 12 when they beat Cardiff through to October’s defeat at Wolves.

They have been outside of the play-off zone since, dropping as low as 14th.

But last week’s 2-1 win over QPR moved them to within three points of fifth and sixth positions.

Neil said: “We have always been within striking distance but have not managed to take that next step.

“What we are hoping for is that having more experience of playing some games under pressure and having a lot more riding on them, that can help us in the next few weeks.

“A bit of fortune has come our way in the last two games in that we won them having not played as well as we did in the three we lost.

“In the second half against Leeds and likewise at QPR, we played well after not being too good in the first half.

“What we need to do is turn the second-half performances into 90 minutes tomorrow.

“If we do that, it gives us a chance of winning the game.”

This could well be a pivotal weekend in the play-off race, with sixth-placed Millwall at home to Fulham tonight.

There is a battle of seventh versus fifth tomorrow when Derby host Middlesbrough.

Said Neil: “If we win our game, we will see what the lay of the land is like. We are probably in with as good a chance now as we have been all season really in terms of getting into the top six.

“At this stage of the season every result is magnified as the games are running out.

“I think after the weekend we will have a much clearer idea of where everyone is and if we have a genuine chance of getting into the top six.

“We have to take care of ourselves and if we do that, come 5pm tomorrow we will be in a strong position going into the last two games.”

Neil will assess the fitness of Sean Maguire today after the striker missed the QPR game with a hamstring injury.

Maguire pulled up late in the Leeds game after he had earlier scored his 10th goal of the season.

Said Neil: “Sean is the one player we are assessing in terms of an injury.

“He has picked up quite a bit and has a good chance of playing. I’ll probably know more later today and make a call from there.”