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How Simon Grayson has lead Preston to chasing Championship play-offs

Saturday 21st January 2017
From struggling at the lower end of League One in 2013 to beating Championship leaders Brighton and nearly knocking out Arsenal from the FA Cup this month, Preston North End are showing signs of a club on the rise.

When Simon Grayson was appointed manager of the Lilywhites in February 2013 after being sacked from his role at Huddersfield a month prior, his objective was to keep the club clear of relegation to League Two, which he managed to do with four games to go.

Fast forward another year and the former Blackpool and Leeds United boss was guiding Preston to the League One play-off semi-final against Rotherham. Unfortunately for the Lancashire club, they lost 4-2 on aggregate and remained in the division.

Determined to remain unbeaten and not disheartened by the difficult end to the 2013/14 campaign, Grayson once again lead Preston to the play-offs the following season and after an absence of four years, they managed to reach the Championship with a 4-0 thrashing over Swindon largely thanks to a hat-trick from Jermaine Beckford.

Now adjusting back to life in the second tier, Preston were tipped as a side to struggle. Their summer transfer business started brightly with the permanent signings of Beckford from Bolton and Paul Gallagher from Leicester as well as, undisclosed deals for Bristol City's Greg Cunningham and Sheffield Wednesday's Stevie May.

Come towards the end of February, Preston – with the promising midfielder, Ben Pearson, now on their books – managed to achieve 23 points from 30 matches, a magnificent run of form that eventually helped Grayson's men to achieve an impressive 11th place in the Championship table.

Despite losing striker Joe Garner to Rangers for a fee just below £2m, Preston still managed to achieve a successful 2016 summer transfer window, adding experience such as loaning defender Alex Baptiste from Middlesbrough, signing Tommy Spurr on a free transfer from Blackburn and the loan deal for Republic of Ireland winger Aiden McGeady from Everton.

With the trio plus some other new faces now on board, Preston's start to this campaign was slow, to say the least. After only one win in the opening month and losing 5-0 to Brentford in the middle of September, some began to wonder if the Lilywhites could stay within the division.

Nevertheless, a 3-2 after extra-time victory away against Premier League Bournemouth - inspired by loanee Simon Makienok's hat-trick – gave Preston some much-needed confidence as they achieved 14 points from their next six matches.

Back to the present day and Preston are ninth in the Championship. A terrific achievement from Grayson, who is now approaching four years in charge at Deepdale.

The energy shown in all areas of the pitch would give any side a decent test. The goals of Aston Villa loanee Callum Robinson and Jordan Hugill matched with the talented Pearson and creative Daniel Johnson in midfield mean that Preston has that cutting-edge instinct too.

A 2-0 victory over promotion hopefuls Brighton on the back of a terrific performance that saw Arsenal scrape through 2-1 in the FA Cup has shown that Preston do have the credentials to do go one better and possibly sneak into the play-offs.
Greg Stubley
Greg graduated with a first in Sports Journalism from the University of Brighton in Summer 2016 and has already managed to gain experience in the industry, working for companies such as Charlton Athletic and talkSPORT. Greg is currently the regular commentator on Charlton's "CAFCPlayerHD" service, bringing full-match live commentary along with Terry Smith of Addicks' games up and down the country for subscribers to listen.

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