They’ve rarely been mentioned in any discussions regarding promotion from the Championship this season, but Preston North End are quietly going about their business and with only seven points now separating them from the play-off pack, they can’t be written off.
Especially so when you consider the record of the man in the Deepdale dugout. Simon Grayson is a promotion specialist, with the 47-year-old the only man to have taken four different clubs to promotion from League One – Blackpool, Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Preston.
Perhaps more crucially, though, he has tons of experience in navigating the play-offs successfully. Three of the four promotions Grayson has delivered have come via victory at Wembley, including Preston’s ascent from League One in 2015.
While finishing in the top-six will be a battle in and of itself, it’s certainly still achievable.
Preston have a fairly generous set of fixtures remaining now, with the Lancashire outfit facing all of the league’s bottom three, and only one of the trio at the top – and that a late-season trip to Newcastle United, who may already have promotion wrapped up by that point.
There’s also reason to be positive in the fact that PNE appear to have overcome their earlier-season habit of dropping points from winning positions.
The Lilywhites are actually third in the half-time table, despite currently lying ninth in the table proper. However, in their last five games they’ve come from behind to take points against Ipswich Town and Aston Villa, and scored three second-half goals in the 4-2 victory over Brentford on Saturday.
One of the Championship’s most talented players – Aiden McGeady – netted twice against the Bees, including a spectacular strike to quickly cancel out Tom Field’s opener for the visitors.
While the Everton loanee hasn’t yet set the division alight, that double could be just the lift their mercurial wing wizard needs. At this level, an in-form McGeady is close to unstoppable.
And the Deepdale faithful will be hoping for similar magic from one of January’s savviest signings.
Tom Barkuizen had been giving League Two defences nightmares for Morecambe, and following five goals and a flurry of assists at the Globe Arena already this season, there’s little doubt the versatile playmaker will handle the step up well.
So, the play-off spots are within sight, Grayson’s record at that stage is phenomenal, and the Lilywhites have scrapped their bad habits, and now have Barkhuizen and a resurgent McGeady in their ranks.
At 66/1 for promotion, they could prove to be the most inspired outright bet of the season.
Next up for Preston is the visit of Birmingham City on Tuesday night. With the visitors winless in seven on the road, and their hosts fresh off a four-goal haul, the Evens for a PNE victory looks like excellent value indeed.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing