Sean Gregan’s exclusive column: Flying start saw Preston get job done early doors

Preston North End's Sean Maguire is congratulated after scoring his side's third goal against Millwall
Preston North End's Sean Maguire is congratulated after scoring his side's third goal against Millwall

Pre-match team talks can cover a whole range of topics but a common theme for away teams is quietening the home crowd.

I’m sure Alex Neil will have spoken with Preston’s players before the Millwall game about making a fast start to try and dampen the atmosphere at The Den.

They certainly carried out their manager’s instructions to the letter by racing into a 3-0 lead inside 27 minutes.

Effectively PNE had the game won in that spell, with the Millwall fans booing their team off the pitch at half-time.

For any away team, that is music to your ears.

When you score a burst of first-half goals like that, you rarely repeat it in the second half.

Those second 45 minutes tend to turn into something of a scrap.

Millwall’s manager Neil Harris will have challenged his players to ‘win the second half’ and restore some pride.

For North End, it was about trying to pinch a fourth goal but without dropping their guard at the other end.

Eventually, Millwall did pull a goal back but it was too little, too late.

I was involved in games like that in my career and saw it from both sides.

Sometimes I was on the winning side and enjoyed having got the game won early.

There were other games when I was in teams who had conceded three, four or even fives goals before half-time and the second half became about restoring pride.

You can’t help but be a bit excited about Preston’s form of the last six or seven weeks.

Four straight away wins and being eight unbeaten in total, is pretty good going to say the least.

The away form obviously catches the eye – putting back-to-back wins together on the road can be tough, so to do it four times must be applauded.

Spread out over a season the recent form is promotion form but the results from earlier in the campaign mean they are playing catch-up.

But to be able to mention the play-offs at this stage is testament to how well they have done lately.

Neil’s men are on 47 points with 12 games left.

Last year, Derby County finished in sixth place with 75 points.

If that is a guide for this season, North End need to maintain this form over the coming weeks if they are to be mentioned as candidates for a play-off place.

There are other teams better positioned and with more points – some have played less games.

But I’m sure they are well aware of Preston’s form just outside the pack and will be looking over their shoulders that little bit.

Neil will be taking things calmly, one game at a time and on to the next one.

It should be a cracking game next Saturday against Bristol City at Deepdale.

They are one of the sides who North End are chasing and a victory would cut the deficit on the Robins to three points.

If PNE did win that one, it would surely get people talking!