Preston North End Premier League

It is now the business end of the season, and with just ten games remaining manager Alex Neil has his work cut out. The club currently lie in 8th place, only one point out of the playoffs, and they must be thinking that they can clinch a Premier League place come May. However, do they have what it takes?

It is surprising that one of the oldest clubs in the country has never made the Premier League. It is even more remarkable that the last time they played top flight football was in the 1960/61 season; the people of Preston have been waiting a while. It is even more frustrating for them that their rivals Burnley, Blackburn, Wigan, Bolton and fiercest Blackpool have all graced the Premier League before they have. However, it might all be about to change.

Preston have been in this situation before and have faltered in the Championship (formerly the Division One) playoffs four times; twice in the final. It is something that has been a problem for The Lilywhites and something that they want to get over. They managed some redemption in the 2015 League One play-off final when they were victorious against Swindon Town in a comfortable 4-0 win. They need to take the belief and form they had then to make this Championship trip a successful one.

This is their third season in the Championship now, and it could be their best one yet. With Neil in charge, he has transformed an already solid side under Simon Grayson into one of the dark horses for the playoffs. He has personal success with Norwich, and the playoffs as the same year PNE were promoted to the Championship, he won promotion to the Premier League. Neil does not lack experience nor does he lack the will to succeed.

Since losing Jordan Hugill to West Ham, Neil has been able to rely on former Blackpool wide man Tom Barkhuizen this year as he has found the back of the net eight times. The pacey forward can cause real problems in the opposition defence by driving at the players with free will and producing an opportunity at the end of it. Alongside Barkhuizen up front is Republic of Ireland international Sean Maguire who has seven goals to his name this year. These two symbolise how Neil likes his players to play, with speed, attacking intent and by being aggressive.

Preston are also solid in defence, with long-term defender Paul Huntington and youngster Ben Davies proving to be a strong defensive unit that sides struggle to break down easily. Like the forward play, the defence is aggressive and are ready to battle anyone in the league. You just have to look at the back to back 1-1 draws with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa to see that they are no pushovers.

The final games are where they have to show what they are made of. If they get a strong run going until the end of the season and make the playoffs, then they are able to take those performances into the most critical part of their season. With eight games against teams that are below them in the league, they stand a strong chance.

The question will remain will they crumble under the pressure if they make the playoffs and miss out of the promised land once again?

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