Sean Gregan’s exclusive Preston North End column

Tom Clarke celebrates scoring the winner against Cardiff
Tom Clarke celebrates scoring the winner against Cardiff

The win at Cardiff on Friday night was a great way for Preston North End to finish 2017.

It sets them up nicely for 2018 which starts with the visit of Middlesbrough to Deepdale.

North End defended very well at Cardiff, got hold of the midfield and were eventually able to find a winner.

Tom Clarke has had a knack of popping up to score some important goals in his time at the club and this 90th minute winner was one he will have enjoyed.

It is a great time to score, knocking the stuffing out of the opposition and not giving them much time to find an equaliser.

That is nine unbeaten for North End and there are a few clean sheets in there which is always pleasing.

I’m sure the next thing Alex Neil will be looking to do is add a few more goals to the team but if the 1-0 victories continue to come, he’ll be pleased with that.

I like what Neil has done so far and it has been a smooth transition between managers.

Any appointment is a risk because players might not fit into how a manager wants to play.

But all credit to Neil, he has taken up the reins and done a great job – maybe even better than Simon Grayson would have done.

Hopefully, North End can kick on further in 2018 and be up around those play-off places.

With a bit of business in the transfer window, who knows what can be done?

After such a good away win at Cardiff, it is back to Deepdale and a game against Middlesbrough.

Over Christmas Boro changed their manager, with Garry Monk sacked and replaced by Tony Pulis.

I’m from that part of the world and watched Boro as a kid.

I just don’t understand the appointment of Pulis.

He’s proved himself as a very good manager but I would say his speciality in recent years is keeping teams up rather than taking them up. His sides are usually very solid, yet he’s going in at Boro who signed a lot of attacking players last summer.

I can see him parking the bus at Deepdale because Boro lost on Saturday and he won’t want to lose two on the bounce.

In his first game, he gave a game to Ryan Shotton in the right-back position.

Shotton is a centre-half by trade and has hardly had a sniff since he joined them.

Pulis has played centre-backs at full-back before, he did it with Craig Dawson at West Bromwich.

So a degree of patience will perhaps be needed by North End and the fans as they look for a way through an organised side.

Pulis was of course the manager at Gillingham all those years ago when we went toe-to-toe with them in the lower divisions.

They had been Preston’s main rivals when Gary Peters guided PNE to the Third Division title in 1996.

In my time at North End, we lost to them in the play-offs in 1999 but then we went up as Champions in 2000 with Gillingham coming up through the play-offs.