Preston North End simply must pass this Championship test and Ryan Lowe will know it

PNE host the Millers on Saturday afternoon at Deepdale
Preston North End manager Ryan Lowe thanks the supporters after the matchPreston North End manager Ryan Lowe thanks the supporters after the match
Preston North End manager Ryan Lowe thanks the supporters after the match

It was a point Preston North End took at the time, all things considered. But, the next meeting with Rotherham United - which is less than 48 hours away now - needs to result in the Lilywhites picking up three points. You are entitled to nothing in football and the Championship, which throws up surprises every single week, perhaps encapsulates that as much as any other league.

But, Ryan Lowe and co will know the importance of coming away from Deepdale, on Friday evening, with three points in the bag. The Millers have been a frustrating opponent for North End in recent times, but they are rooted to the bottom of the table and resigned to the fact they will be playing League One football next season. Surely, even the most optimistic supporter would admit that a 19-point gap to safety is simply too big for Rotherham to claw back.

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North End drew 1-1 at the New York Stadium, back in September. Having gone into the game on the back of six wins and 19 points from the possible first 21, Preston put the point away and moved on. In hindsight, two more would've made the current picture look even better for PNE. It may end up being an afternoon they look back on with a tinge of regret. But for now, it is very much gone. Breaking into the play-offs will take one almighty effort for North End, but with the gap to sixth placed Norwich City at five points - and with a game in hand - they must believe.

Failing to get past the Millers, mind, would represent a major blow to any hopes. That is of no disrespect to Rotherham, but any side with top six aspirations - at this stage - needs to see off a team who've won three matches out of 38 and conceded 77 goals in the process. Millers head coach, Leam Richardson, is evidently trying to keep the mood high in camp - but even his comments are of a resigned nature.

Ahead of returning to action, he said: "I am very excited and very keen to move things forward as quickly as I can, but I'm also very aware of the moment we're in. Can we enjoy this moment we're in? Absolutely not. Can we work hard and try hard to be the best version of us? Of course we can. Can we think about the future and have an eye on turning the dial, while trying to keep the best of what we have at the moment? Of course we can.”

All the signs over the last couple of months have been that PNE's players are firmly up for the fight - and determined to take the season as deep as they can. Branding any Championship match as easy is uncomfortable and probably unfair, but if you were to cherry pick a first fixture after the international break - to really go and attack - it would be North End's upcoming one. Lowe's side should be marching into April on 59 points and if Preston - to coin one of the gaffer's favourite phrases - reach the levels of late, they should have no problem in doing so.

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