Early focus for PNE

Simon Grayson says Preston North End must stop putting themselves in the position of having to chase games after coming unstuck against Fulham.
Preston North End's Calum Woods leaves the pitch with an injury against FulhamPreston North End's Calum Woods leaves the pitch with an injury against Fulham
Preston North End's Calum Woods leaves the pitch with an injury against Fulham

While the Lilywhites had fought back from conceding the first goal to get two wins and a draw in their previous three matches, they could not repeat that in Tuesday night’s reverse against the Cottagers.

In last month’s Gentry Day win at Bolton, they were behind at the interval before hitting back with two goals in the second half.

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They needed an injury-time equaliser against QPR to earn a share of the spoils.

At Blackburn last Saturday, Grayson’s men fell behind to an early Rovers goal but got in front by half-time.

Fulham took the lead inside five minutes at Deepdale before Marnick Vermijl’s fine goal brought PNE level.

But they were level for only 10 minutes before the London club hit their winner.

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Until the QPR game, North End had not conceded a goal in the first 20 minutes of a league game this season.

Preston manager Grayson said: “It is disappointing to have let in a few goals recently because we have normally been hard to beat.

“They have not been goals where it has been down to the opposition creating something with a bit of magic.

“When you look back at the QPR game, their goal came from a corner.

“Against Blackburn it was a set piece.

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“Fulham’s first goal was one long ball from our attacking play, the second a rebound after a free-kick.

“We have to make sure we start the game better and also concentrate better.

“Saying that, I cannot fault what the players have done this season, they have been magnificent.”

The 2-1 defeat to Fulham extinguished PNE’s outside chances of the play-offs.

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They are now 11 points shy of sixth-placed Derby with six games to play.

Said Grayson: “We have never really talked about the play-offs to be fair.

“We have just aimed to win as many games as possible to see where that takes us.

“The sole aim at the start of the season was to survive in this division.

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“We have done that more than comfortably and if we can finish where we are now or a bit higher, we will have had an absolutely fantastic season.

“When you look at the size of some of the clubs below us in the table and their budgets, it shows how well we have done.”

North End will now dust themselves down from the Fulham defeat in readiness for a tough trip to Middlesbrough on Saturday.

The Teesside outfit are in second place in the table, a point behind Burnley and one better off then Brighton.

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Grayson might well have to re-jig his defence and system for the visit to the Riverside Stadium.

He lost Tom Clarke and Calum Woods to injury in the early stages of the Fulham game.

Said Grayson: “It is a big game for us at the weekend, Middlesbrough had another good result on Tuesday night.

“They will be looking to stay in the top two so it will be a tough test for us.

“We’ll go there looking to get the right result.”