Adam’s latest “The Championship Corner” column.
Simon Grayson was being realistic after he saw his team thrashed 6-0 by Newcastle in their midweek EFL Cup tie.
The Preston North End manager even had time for a laugh when asked if there would be a different outcome when they host the Magpies in the league this weekend.
“It better be!” he said, “I’m not going through that again on Saturday.”
The gulf in quality was evident at ST James’s Park, with Newcastle’s half dozen goals making it 19 goals from the last 6 games in all competitions for Rafael Benitez’s team.
They are now 3 points clear at the top of the Championship and beginning to flex their muscles in the stampede back to the Premier League.
Grayson, whose team was hindered by Alan Browne’s early sending off for a vicious elbow on Jack Colback, was unsurprised by such form.
“It’s a club geared for success” he said, “they certainly are [a different level]. They’ve got the manager that this time last year was at Real Madrid. That’s why they’ve got the fanatical support they’ve got.”
The likes of Mohamed Diame, Dwight Gayle, Jonjo Shelvey, Ayoze Perez and Matt Richie may be frightening opposition but, on Halloween weekend, the Lilywhites will be optimistic they can cause the Magpies a scare when they meet in the league on Saturday.
Preston have not been beaten at Deepdale since September 10th and are on a run of 6 games without a loss, in which time they have beaten 4th placed Norwich, 3rd place Huddersfield and drew away at 2nd place Brighton.
It has marked a fast improvement from Preston who only won 2 of their opening 8 games which saw pressure begin to grow on Grayson.
They also started slowly last term only to turn around their form enough to finish 11th, 22 points clear of relegation, a great achievement considering the Lilywhites were only promote from League One the season before.
The recent upturn has been owing to a well-drilled and hard-working defence, typical of Grayson, that have leaked just 1 goal in their last 4 home games and held out against free-scoring Norwich at Carrow Road with a plan that involved dropping Ben Pearson deep into midfield to shut out Wes Hoolahan.
“If you come to places like Norwich you make sure you give everything” said Grayson, “you make sure you keep your shape and discipline of the team, your goalkeeper makes saves, your defenders make blocks, ultimately we did all of those things and played really well.”
They are values synonymous with Grayson who, while he often flips between 4 at the back to 3, puts resilience and industry at the heart of his team’s approach.
There has been some upheaval at the back with Paul Huntington losing his place with Grayson seeking more pace at centre-half.
Tom Clarke has emerged as the regular partner to Bailey Wright while Alex Baptiste, signed on loan from Middlesbrough, has impressed at right-back.
Between Clarke and Baptiste, who scored the winner at Norwich, there have been 5 goals scored, indicating Preston’s strength from set-pieces and compensating for a bluntness in attack as Preston have had to adapt to the loss of Joe Garner, scorer of 51 goals for Preston in League One, to Rangers.
Paul Gallagher has shown his class with 5 assists, but has had to bide his time in getting back into the side after suffering injury at the end of September.
The 32-year-old was brilliant in the 3-1 win over Huddersfield and Grayson described him as “good as anyone in this division when it comes to delivery.”
Jordan Hugill is top-scorer but only has 4 to his name and it will worry Grayson that last season’s top-scorer Daniel Johnson, Jermaine Beckford and Simon Makienok, signed on loan from Palermo after impressing for Charlton last term, have struggled in front of goal.
However, Callum Robinson has settled in well on the left after his free-transfer from Aston Villa but Grayson will be wanting more from both Ben Pringle and Aiden McGeady on the opposite wing, both arriving at Deepdale to a big billing but have yet to produce the goods.
It was a changed team that was battered by Newcastle, but worrying for Grayson it was a much-changed side that Benitez put out.
He has been left hoping for a different Newcastle to show up at Deepdale, which it will be, yet it will display the same swagger that ensured total dominance (27 shots to 1) on Wednesday night.
For Grayson it will be a reminder of the recent 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Brentford.
The Preston boss managed to turn it around then and will aim to do so again, with emphasis on organisation, hard-work and solidity.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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