Dave Seddon's PNE Press View
It warmed the heart on a bitterly cold Gentry Day at the Horwich retail park when Sean Maguire marked his return to the Preston side after injury with two goals.
You always wonder how a player will be after a spell on the sidelines with a serious injury – the Irishman’s torn and detached hamstring muscle certainly falling into the ‘serious’ category.
Maguire looked like he had never been away, on cue at the near post to knock in his first goal and later being in the right place on the edge of the six-yard box to net the second.
The shirt came off after his first goal, a bowler hat went on his head at the final whistle to celebrate.
He was back at it again in midweek against Bristol City, helping PNE to complete their annual collection of points from the Robins.
Maguire’s winner was not too dissimilar to the goal he scored against Brentford in October and the one with which he opened his North End account during July’s pre-season friendly with Burnley.
The striker was popular before his injury and in this case, absence has made the hearts of the Preston fans grow even fonder.
The masses who made the trip to Bolton were willing him to score so, to put the hat on Gentry Day, he obliged twice.
The reception which Maguire got when stood ready to come on against Bristol City and then a few minutes later when he scored, raised the Deepdale decibels level by several notches.
So is Maguire the man to make all the difference in the Lilywhites’ bid for the top six?
With him around, they are definitely better equipped for a push.
The type of goals Maguire scored at Bolton were what PNE have been missing.
He was the poacher in and around the six-yard box, an area in which Alex Neil’s men need to present more of a threat.
There have been goals from close-range following set-pieces but not too many when players have seen the whites of the goalkeeper’s eyes in open play.
Of course it would be very unfair to heap bundles of pressure on the shoulders of Maguire and expect goals at the rate of the past week.
His mended hamstring will still need some care and attention.
Greg Cunningham had the same injury and his was very much a careful and well managed return around Christmas and New Year.
What PNE boss Neil will have to balance out is the need to look after Maguire with the benefit of having him in the forward line.
I think it is safe to assume that Maguire’s role from now on will be as a No.9 rather than in the wider role he played before his injury.
In that early part of the campaign, North End had Jordan Hugill to lead the line with Maguire coming off the left to support him.
Sometimes he played more of a No.10 role to offer a threat centrally.
With Hugill sold, Maguire can showcase himself as a centre-forward, the position in which he scored all those goals for Cork and caught PNE’s eye.
The two victories which Maguire played a significant part in this week gave the play-off push a real spark.
With 10 matches left, we can expect plenty of twists and turns as the top placings are sorted out.
In terms of PNE pushing for the top six and possibly reaching the play-offs, would that represent them being on schedule or ahead of where they might have expected to be, come the end of their third season at this level?
After successive 11th-place finishes, there was the need to push on – something Neil made no secret of the minute he took the job.
The Championship is no walk in the park for teams who have come up from League One, as North End did in 2015.
Bristol City went up as champions that year and go into the weekend on level pegging with PNE.
MK Dons who finished second that year, lasted just one season at this level and are currently in danger of relegation to League Two.
The season before North End triumphed at Wembley, it was Wolves, Brentford and Rotherham who made the jump from League One.
It is only this season that Wolves have got their act together and are on course for the Premier League.
That has been done with substantial funds made available by owners Fosun.
Brentford have bobbed around at the right end of the table since going up and made the play-offs in their first season up – but have not done since.
The third team who went up in 2014 were Rotherham, the Millers spending three seasons at this level before last season’s relegation.
In 2013, the three sides promoted from League One to the Championship were Doncaster, Bournemouth and Yeovil.
Doncaster are in League One now, Yeovil in League Two whileBournemouth are sitting comfortably in the Premier League – it took them two years to go up.
Huddersfield had five years in the Championship before making the top flight last season, while it took Brighton six years to make that journey.
It is not an exact science but you can argue that PNE are not behind schedule and might even be slightly ahead.