Big man little man partnership can fire PNE to promotion

Sean Gregan, Jon Macken, David Eyres, Ryan Kidd.

Names that bring back not-too-distant memories of Preston North End’s most successful period in recent history.

All were back in the famous Lilywhite shirt this week for a legends charity match at local non-league side Bamber Bridge’s Irongate ground.

Gregan’s shirt untucked swagger, Eyres’s jinks back inside, Macken’s goal from distance – some things never change.

These days at Deepdale, it is sometimes difficult to keep up with the comings and goings.

Once a model Championship club who promoted coaches from within, owned its own redeveloped stadium, and seemingly ran a tight ship based on stability: North End have been sucked into the same black hole of debt and indifference that has cut many proud clubs down to size in the last decade.

This year, however, there is a sense of optimism around the town which is pretty easy to explain. The current PNE squad may not yet be back to the quality and recognisable names of Gregan and co, but the announcement of Kevin Davies as the big summer signing was a major coup for any club in League One.

It is a long time since a summer signing excited and energised the suffering Deepdale faithful. The plan of teaming Davies’ guile, knowhow, strength and above all, goals, with Iain Hume’s pace, tenacity and craft – if that is what Simon Grayson will do – is a potent one.

On the subject of the manager, there is further positivity. He has a track record of getting underachieving clubs with history, tradition, pedigree and big home crowds, like Leeds and Huddersfield, promoted. He also did the same at Blackpool.

Those associations with rival clubs shouldn’t count against him if, as hoped, he guides Preston to a top six finish this season.

There’ll be plenty of competition, though.

Like the Championship, most of the managers will be quoted as saying this league is the “hardest to get out of”. That’s underlined by the trend that no more than one team has bounced back to the second tier after relegation in the last nine out of 10 seasons.

Big city clubs like Wolves and Bristol City are hotly tipped to slot immediately back into the Championship. Free-scoring and free-conceding Peterborough will inevitably win more games 5-4 that they’ll lose 1-0.

Uwe Rosler’s Brentford should recover from play-off heartache to mount a challenge and how Sheffield United are still at this level with their intimidating home crowds, is a mystery perhaps explained by mismanagement and end of season yipps. Swindon – minus maverick boss Paolo Di Canio – still have the quality to do some damage.

For Preston, Grayson has said his squad is more about quality than quantity, adding only speedy winger Chris Hunphrey and strong centre half Tom Clarke to the signing of Davies.

Another aspect of this coming season that gets the blood flowing is a cracking set of opening fixtures.

After a sell-out 21,000 crowd for a home friendly with Liverpool during pre-season, North End have kick-off their campaign against promotion favourites Wolves on the first day of the season followed by a televised derby with The Lashers two days later in the Capital One League Cup.

It is a depressing sign of the fickle times that if Grayson wins these two fixtures his name will be bouncing around the stadium with chants of ‘We Are Going Up’ – yet lose these two and we’ll be certs for the drop, with the manager labelled a ‘Blackpool spy’.

Grayson oversaw a solid end to the previous season after the outspoken incendiary reign of ego-on-a-stick Graham Westley, guiding us clear of relegation and certain doom.

He’s also avoided the wholesale changes of his Teflon-coated predecessor, resulting in a settled, if not spectacular, pre-season work-out.

All bodes well at Preston North End for a season challenging at the top end of League One. Maybe next time we see the likes of Sean Gregan and his mates, it will be as guests of honour at the end of season promotion party.

Written by Sam Chadderton, We Are Going Up’s Preston North End Blogger

Sam tweets at @samchadderton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.