Preston North End defender Greg Cunningham states importance of last five games of the season, starting against Millwall

There is frustration in Greg Cunningham’s voice when the subject turns to Preston North End’s last five matches of the season.

By Dave Seddon
Thursday, 14th April 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Friday, 15th April 2022, 10:25 am

That frustration stems from the fact a desire to finish the campaign strongly is more to benefit the planning for 2022/23 rather than being too meaningful to this season’s Championship placing.

The Lilywhites head into Easter in 13th place, eight points shy of the play-off pace and realistically jockeying for position with a handful of teams in that mid-table area.

Easter has a London feel about it, Millwall visiting Deepdale on Good Friday (3pm) before North End make the trip to Craven Cottage to take on Premier League-bound Fulham on Tuesday evening.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Preston North End defender Greg Cunningham and Milwall's Dan McNamara hurdle PNE goalkeeper Daniel Iversen at The Den in February

They can have a say between now and May 7 on how the top-six might shape, with Millwall still in with a play-off shout.

Fulham next week will be just about trying to delay the inevitable, then there’s home games with Blackburn and Middlesbrough who are eyeing an extension to their seasons.

In between Blackburn and a Boro is the Gentry Day meeting with Barnsley who are the other end of the table.

Read More

Read More
Preston North End boss wants a better pathway between academy and first-team at ...

Experienced head Cunningham wishes PNE were in the mix themselves rather than just trying to throw spanners into the works of others, as well as bidding to work up a head of steam to carry into next season.

Cunningham told the Lancashire Post: “We are disappointed that we aren’t a little bit closer to the play-off than we are, especially with the run-in when we are playing teams who have a bit more to play for.

"I’ve said it a couple of times recently, it is really about momentum to make sure we finish this season as strongly as possible and then it into next season.

"Who knows, if we go on a mad finish and the pressure gets to some other teams, then you never say never.

"We want to create a winning habit at this club, ready for pre-season in the summer.”

North End being the Championship’s draw specialists is a big reason for their middle ground status.

Only the current top four have lost fewer games than PNE. If they could have converted three of their 15 draws into wins, the excitement would be building.

"We have drawn the most games in the Championship,” said 31-yeard-old Cunningham.

"That shows we don’t have a defeatist attitude – if we can’t win a game, make sure we don’t lose it.

"It’s about fine-tuning some of those draws into wins, if we’d done that we’d find ourselves much higher up the table.

"We go in the Easter games now and the sides we are playing how things to play for.

"Our focus is fully on Millwall then we turn to Tuesday night at Fulham. The last thing you want is for a team to get promoted off your result against them.

"What you want is to do a job and make sure any celebrations are put on hold for another game.

"Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, it’s Millwall at our place first and we are all looking forward to that.”

Cunningham’s season has been a mixed one, with more appearances in the second-half of it under Ryan Lowe than when Frankie McAvoy had the wheel as head coach.

A calf injury suffered in February against Huddersfield Town, kept him sidelined for nearly two months until recently, his comeback game a rather good one – it being last week’s derby victory over Blackpool at Deepdale.

The Irish defender then featured in the 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers, his target now to feature in the remaining matches.

"It’s been a bit stop-start this season for me,” said Cunningham who has made 146 appearances in a Preston shirt in his two spells.

"In the summer I’ll go home and dissect it, see what I have to do in the off-season to make sure I come back right.

"Football is a game of opinion, some people will play you, others see it differently.

"I want to play as many games as I can before the end of the season, play in all of them.

"I’ve felt good in the last two I’ve played and long may that continue.

"The gaffer instils such much confidence in the boys and it’s a nice feeling when a manager holds you in high regard and wants to play you.”

There is a clear respect towards Lowe from Cunningham who re-joined North End from Cardiff City in January 2021.

Cunningham said: “The gaffer is straight down the middle, there’s a time and a place to be nice and a time and a place to get stuck into people if they deserve it. That is how dressing rooms are.

"He’s good to work with, he wants you switched on all the time in games and training.

"My position at wing-back is one which is important to what the gaffer wants. He wants to make sure the wing-backs are outlets and to use them as much as possible.

"On the back of that, he wants to build movement and phases of play into the wing-backs.

"It’s like a building block, he goes through what he wants from us, every training day has a purpose, adding a bit more to what he wants.

"Mike Marsh is a big part of it too. Marshy’s track record as a player and a coach in his career speaks for itself.

"With the gaffer, he’s putting those building blocks in position.”