Taxing opening to season for PNE
Simon Grayson spoke this week of the importance of Preston North End making a better start to the season than they had done in the last two campaigns.
They will certainly have their hands full meeting that challenge judging by what the fixture list has served up.
August, on paper, looks a tough month to say the least.
Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds, Derby, Reading and Middlesbrough are the first five opponents for PNE in the Championship.
Wednesday and Reading reached the play-offs in May, Leeds were not a million miles away, Derby have the budget which meant they should have been there or there abouts, while Middlesbrough are newly relegated from the Premier League.
August last year yielded only one win for North End, hence the desire to start better this time rather than play a game of catch-up.
While it is a tough start, it is not impossible.
Might there be a play-off hangover being nursed by Reading and Wednesday?
Reading were no great shakes when they played at Deepdale in March, beaten comfortably 3-0.
Leeds are under a new head coach, one working in this country for the first time.
You would suspect Boro being strong, looking the best equipped of the three clubs relegated from the top flight to bounce straight back.
As for Derby, Gary Rowett looked like he was getting them going in the closing weeks of last season.
The early-season trip to Pride Park is on a Tuesday night, just as all recent visits to the home of the Rams seem to have been.
September is interesting, with six matches scheduled.
The back-to-back games with Barnsley and Cardiff at Deepdale mirror last season’s fixtures.
Later that month are games against three of the division’s newcomers.
Millwall pay a visit after promotion from League One, then it is back-to-back games with relegated Hull City and Sunderland.
PNE’s Christmas and New Year schedule is not quite one which leaps out at you.
Nottingham Forest come to Deepdale two days before Father Christmas calls, then it is off to Barnsley on Boxing Day.
There is the long haul to Cardiff on December 30, then a home game with Boro gets 2018 under way.
Easter serves up a visit to Wednesday and a home clash with Derby.
If you were to choose one stinker from the fixture list in terms of travelling, it would be Bristol City away on a Tuesday night in November.
It is this term’s equivalent of Cardiff away and will no doubt feature coned-off lanes on the motorways and at least two closures to navigate.
Both games against Aston Villa are down for a Tuesday night, while the Deepdale clash with Leeds is too – not the best in revenue terms.