Sean Gregan's exclusive PNE column

Something which has caught my attention this season has been Alex Neil's straight-forward approach and talk as Preston North End manager.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 24th September 2017, 7:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th September 2017, 11:36 am
John Welsh blocks a free-kick from Jed Wallace when on duty on the end of the wall against Millwall
John Welsh blocks a free-kick from Jed Wallace when on duty on the end of the wall against Millwall

Neil has not hidden his desire to have PNE pushing at the top end of the table and that is refreshing.

Often, targets are talked about behind closed doors in the dressing room but things are played down in the public domain.

It is has been refreshing to hear Neil talk honestly about his ambitions and where he wants to see Preston.

I watched an interview he did after the Millwall game and it was to the point, with no excuses put forward about not winning.

It was very much a case of, ‘We wanted to win, we didn’t, so we move on to the next challenge’.

While North End will have been disappointed not to have beaten Millwall, it was another point in the bag and a sixth game unbeaten.

If you break fixtures into blocks, this latest one has been pretty decent.

There were the wins over Cardiff and Birmingham, sandwiched by the draws with Barnsley and Millwall.

Spread that kind of points tally over the course of the season and you will finish in a decent place.

It has been a good start to the season and nine games in, maybe North End have surprised a few people.

The table is starting to take a little bit of shape and the 10-game mark is often used as a reference point to how things are shaping up.

But I personally think it is nearer to Christmas when you start to get a proper feel of what the table is about.

Two missed chances in the Millwall game, the best falling to Josh Harrop, were costly.

Had that got in and North End had made it three wins on the bounce, that would have represented a strong spell of form going into the last two games ahead of the international break.

Both games this week are against sides who came down from the Premier League at the end of last season.

First up is the visit to Hull City on Tuesday night and then Sunderland come to Deepdale on Saturday.

Hull have been up and down so far and look to still be adjusting to the division.

As for Sunderland, they are not having a good time down in the bottom three.

Simon Grayson took on a tough task there after leaving PNE in the summer and they have really struggled of late.

A lot of the pre-match talk will revolve around Grayson as it does when a manager goes back to his old club.

The Preston supporters are a fair bunch and I expect they will give Grayson a good reception before it is down to business once the game kicks off.

While his exit was a bit rushed, you cannot fault the job he did in his four or so years here.

Grayson led North End to promotion and got them 
settled in the Championship.

Those foundations are what Neil has been able to build on these last couple of months and long may he 
continue doing that.

A good points tally from these next two games will help that building process.