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Fan Focus - Preston North End: “We had bad starts under Grayson and he turned it around”

Ahead of today’s game with Simon Grayson’s former side Preston, we spoke to Lilywhite Magic writer Gary Bond in an attempt to work out if yet another savage beating is upon us when we head to Deepdale this afternoon.

Roker Report

RR: Simon Grayson left Preston to come to us and we're doing terribly, as I'm sure you're aware. Meanwhile, Alex Neil has taken over at Deepdale and you haven't looked back after a strong start, so what has he changed to get you performing so well?

LM: Well the difference in mentality is a lot different that’s for sure. Under Grayson we became accustomed to his ‘safety first’ approach/mentality – quite often when playing the ‘big spenders’/bigger clubs we’d adopt this approach and try to snatch a win/point. If we had a slender lead, we’d sit back rather than trying to extend it.

Under Alex Neil, it’s been completely different. The attitude has been a lot more positive and Alex has instilled a belief within the players to not be scared of anyone, regardless of who the opposition are and has given them the belief we can compete with the big spenders.

Gone is the safety first approach and we now go into games looking for a win. If things aren’t going our way, then Alex looks at a way of winning the game. We were under the cosh for a period of time at Hull in midweek with the score at 1-1, yet he brought on three attacking players and we ended up winning the game.

RR: What would represent a good season for Preston? It's still early but you're fourth at the moment and playing well, so do you think you'll finish in the top six?

LM: The past two seasons we’ve finished 11th so basically anything higher than that would probably represent a “good season.” However, I know Alex Neil wouldn’t settle for that – there’s no doubting he wants a play off place at the very least.

It’s still far to early to say where we’ll finish but if we keep putting in the kind of performances we’ve seen so far then the top six is a possibility.

Preston North End v Burnley - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

RR: Given that Grayson was at Preston for a while, how likely is it that he'll turn this dreadful run of form around? Can you give us even a grain of positivity?

LM: All I can say is we had two bad starts for the past couple of seasons under Grayson and he managed to turn it around and guide us to mid-table finishes. What concerned me is that last season towards the end, we just completely collapsed and our 11th placed finish could perhaps be seen as a disappointment considering we were pushing for the play-offs at one point.

One thing he had at North End is that the players were always on his side so that certainly helped. Is it the same at Sunderland? The general comments suggest not and it’s looking like Simon may have bitten off more than he can chew.

RR: Jordan Hugill was constantly linked with us in the summer, so he's bound to score but is there any one else Sunderland fans should be worried about in the PNE side?

LM: Sean Maguire – he’s been fantastic since joining. He’s not had the rub of the green yet with the goals tally but he can certainly play. If he doesn’t score then he usually makes a contribution one way or the other – he’s great at setting others up and the way he links up with the midfield is fantastic. He can be a tricky player to play against too – considering Sunderland’s fragile defence, that could suit him just fine.

Huddersfield Town v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

RR: Aiden McGeady will be returning to Deepdale of course and I'm sure your fans will be very aware of the problems he can cause. Is he the main man you're worried about in the Sunderland side or is there anyone else?

LM: He’s definitely the main man I’m worried about. After watching him last season, he’s one of, if not the best player I’ve ever seen in a North End shirt. He has a canny ability to change a game with his sheer trickery and his crosses.

I just hope our players are ready for him and haven’t forgotten what he can do!

RR: How do you see Alex Neil approaching this game and what do you think the starting line up will be?

LM: Alex Neil will no doubt be approaching the game with the sole intention of winning it rather than thinking a point would be a good result. We’ve been frustrated in a couple of home games this season (against Barnsley and Millwall) where we weren’t able to play a great pass or put in a good cross into the box. Alex won’t want the same frustrations so I expect one or two changes to the line up.

The line up is quite hard to predict as we’ve been in a good position to be able to rotate some of the players match-by-match, but considering we have had a bit of difficulty crossing the ball in at times (certainly against Millwall) I’m expecting Daryl Horgan to start.

I think the formation will stay the same but I think the line up will be: Maxwell, Fisher, Huntington, Davies, Earl, Welsh, Browne, Johnson, Horgan, Maguire, Hugill.

RR: Finally, a prediction please?

LM: I’m usually rubbish at predictions! I’ll go for - PNE 3-2 Sunderland.


You can check out Lilywhite Magic on their website and follow Gary on Twitter here!