Preston who sit 17th in League One, find themselves facing Notts County at Meadow Lane. The tie originally scheduled to fall in December, which was postponed, is a game against two sides who's fans will be saying 'What if?'. Notts County 10th, still have an outside bet of reaching the playoffs but it will be games like this which ultimately seal our fate. We've taken the time to speak with two Preston fans and we sincerely hope you enjoy this feature. We appreciate your time reading, sharing and inspiring us.
Firstly, could you tell prideofnottingham.co.uk a little about yourself, such as how long you've been a fan for?
James: I'm James Shuttleworth, a 20 year-old Literature student at Bangor University. Born in Preston, live in the town of Leyland when not at University. I've been a North Ender since the age of 7 due to my Dad being a fan of many years before me.
Ben: I am a 17 year old college student who is a season ticket holder, and has been since the age of 6, however my first game was at the age of 3, a 3-0 win over Ford United in the F.A Cup in 1998.
Simon Grayson were on the lips of many Notts County fans to replace Keith Curle, How happy are you with the appointment and who did the majority of Preston fans want?
James: I'm very pleased with the appointment of Simon Grayson. With the track record of 3 promotions with 3 clubs from this division, who wouldn't be happy? A few of the more deluded fans wanted Nigel Adkins, others touting Owen Coyle. Simon was the favourite pretty much from the off, though.
Ben: Most fans are delighted with Simon as the new manager, he has a proven track record in this league, and most have seen through his past allegiances with 'that lot down the road' and welcomed him as manager. Most fans wanted Grayson as soon as the odds came out, some wanted Owen Coyle but would be way out of our price range, whilst some wanted the local lad, Gareth Ainsworth in.
Who at the start of the season did you see getting promoted?
James: For me, it was hard to look past the force that is always Sheffield United. I'm not a huge lover of them (to say the least), but they're always good. I'd also thought Doncaster and Bournemouth would be up there, so they'd probably have been my 3.
Ben: For me, it would have to be Sheffield United and Doncaster automatically, and Bournemouth through the play-offs. Both the Yorkshire clubs had the players to succeed in this divison with lots of experience throughout both line-ups, whilst Bournemouth spent a lot in the summer to create their squad.
Start of the season Preston were looking like strong contenders for promotion, where did the season go wrong?
James: Westley's constant switching up of the team certainly did us no favours. A couple of injuries here and there and a drop in home form (resulting in a lack of confidence) added to the pressure.
Ben: Graham Westley. That's where it went wrong. The season did start well, Carling Cup wins over Huddersfield and Crystal Palace, big wins in the league over Swindon, Doncaster and Hartlepool, however, and somewhat coincidentally, the slide started after the reverse of this upcoming fixture, at Deepdale. Both of our full-backs, Keith Keane, and more notoriously, Scott Laird, were ruled out for some time and we never looked the same after that. We went on a run of 8 league games after that before we could find a win, then another 5 games without a win in the league, and the collapse at Coventry in the Johnstones Paint Trophy was especially hard to take. It's an understatement to say that some of the players didn't get on with Westley and did not agree with his methods. In the end, he had to go, he had lost the dressing room. It's no surprise to see once he had gone, we haven't lost since.
What's your hopes for the rest of the remaining season?
James: My hopes for the rest of our season are to consolidate, pick up a few home wins and finish in the top 14. It would be good if Simon could continue what he's done in the first few games - keep a steady starting XI and let them work out any issues with their play. From experience, I like to think that consistency breeds success in a football club.
Ben: Get a good run of results, steer away from the relegation zone and play attractive, winning football. On the basis of what I have seen so far of the post-Westley era, i'm convinced Grayson is the right man for the job. However, we will need to see in the summer what moves he makes in regards to transfers.
Please share a memory from your earliar days of supporting Preston North End?
James: The earliest memory I have is of a home game against Grimsby. 'Super' Jonny Macken scored after 17 seconds. We proceeded to lose 2-1. That season was brilliant - we were newly promoted, beat Birmingham in the play-off semi-final and went to the Millennium Stadium. We got thumped 3-0 by Bolton Wanderers, but we won't dwell on that too much.
Ben: The 2000/2001 Championship play-off semi-final 2nd leg, which was at Deepdale, we hosted Birmingham City, trailing 1-0 from the first leg at St.Andrews, if I remember correctly, Nicky Eaden got the goal. We had a great start in the second leg, leveling the tie through David Healy, but Geoff Horsfield restored the Blues lead in the second half. The normally level-headed Graham Alexander crashed a penalty against the bar after this, which shocked the majority of the crowd, he was a penalty expert. We thought it was all over when Lazardis rounded David Lucas in the 89th minute, but somehow, his shot from a tight angle trickled all the way across the goal without going in, and the counter attack started, and was put in at the other end by Mark Rankine, who wasn't known for his attacking prowess. We survived several scares in extra time, and subsequently won the penalty shootout, despite Trevor Francis' protests at the penalty kicks not being taken at the empty end which was once the Town End, instead they were taken infront of the vocal North Ens fans in the Bill Shankly Kop. We did go on to lose the final in Cardiff to Bolton Wanderers, but it wasn't bad for a team who'd just come off a promotion from League One.
How is Scott Laird's recovery going?
James: Scott has tweeted recently about his recovery. He got back to running lightly a couple of weeks ago, so he's steadily coming back. The club has hopes to get him fit to take a decent part in pre-season and be ready for the start of next season.
Ben: He's started running again in training, although won't be fully fit until pre-season. It was a shame to lose him as he was by far our best and most consistent player before the injury, and i'm still a bit bitter to this day as I feel it changed our season for the worse. We just hope he returns the same player he was before the injury.
How much of a loss his Scott's absence to your starting line up?
James: Losing Scotty was a huge blow. He was, at the time, easily our most influential player. Solid in defence, quick up and down the wing and a great attacking threat. Also, he was top of our assists charts at the time! We have David Buchanan who has deputised well, but he's not the same player.
Ben: For the first few months he was a major loss. We missed his attacking presence down the left. We thought we had a very able replacement in David Buchanan, who was Tranmere's player of the season last year, but things weren't going right for him, and towards the end of Westley's tenure, Buchanan was replaced by youth team player Ben Davies. Since Westley has gone, Buchanan admitted that he and the ex-gaffer didn't see eye to eye, and his performances have sky-rocketed since.
Which Notts County players do you consider to poise a threat to your defence and why?
James: I see Francois Zoko as a threat, simply because he reputedly 'nearly' signed for us during the summer but opted for Notts instead. Also, I'd consider Alan Judge to be a tricky customer. Our defence has shored up reasonably well recently though, and the lads will arrive with a clean sheet under their belts. It should be a tight affair.
Ben: We know all about Francois Zoko, he destroyed us at Deepdale in his Carlisle days on Boxing Day 2011, we also know Alan Judge is a very creative threat from midfield, he can do anything.
Can you tell us which Preston players we should be aware of and who is your key player?
James: The wingers. Lee Holmes and Will Hayhurst. Lee is a classy player for this level - if it weren't for injury then he'd be a Championship player. Sweet left foot on him. Young Will has scored 3 goals in 3 games from the left flank, so he's a massive threat too. The likes of Stuart Beavon and Nicky Wroe also can't be overlooked - Beavs has picked up a few goals and Nicky chipped in with a hat-trick at Scunthorpe earlier in the season.
Ben: Stuart Beavon is an absolute workhorse upfront and runs himself into the ground for the team, whilst also scoring goals, 10 this season he's tallied so far, but he would have liked to have more. It's hard to look past our wing wizards at this stage, with Lee Holmes putting in some dazzling performances, but Will Hayhurst has been taking the plaudits as of late. The 19 year old who suffered two leg breaks in his youth team days, has grown in stature since some tame performances in the first few months of the season, and has netted 3 goals in his last 3 games, and if he carries on, clubs from the higher echelons will start to notice his talents. Even better that he's a local lad, supported PNE as a boy and will give it all for the club.
Do you have a favourite away day and who were you not looking forward to visiting this season?
James: Due to being away from home, I haven't made it to many games this season - but surprisingly, made it to a few away games! I enjoyed the trip to Hartlepool on New Years Day. Without meaning to offend Pools, it was a quaint trip to an older style ground. I also made it to the Ricoh Arena twice in a couple of weeks - including the JTP Northern semi-final on my birthday, where Steve Simonsen forgetting how to use his hands cost us dearly. So I'd have to say, Coventry holds the worst away day feeling for me at the moment!
Ben: I'd have to say Bury was my favourite away day. We outnumbered the home support, taking close to 3,000 fans to Gigg Lane, and won 2-1 thanks to goals from Shane Cansdell-Sherriff and Akpo Sodje, who have both departed the club, SCS only on loan. I wasn't looking forward to visiting Colchester as we never seem to get a result in the deep heart of Essex, and we didn't, losing 1-0. I would like Blackpool to be relegated this season though, it'd be nice to have a closer game seeing as Bury is our local derby being 45 minutes away!
Please tell us about your current favourite player and your all-time hero?
James: My current favourite player has to be Scott Laird. Driving force, passionate about the game and very talented. Otherwise, I've a soft spot for our (currently) sub keeper Thorsten Stuckmann. Pulls off some blinders, full of passion and a generally nice lad.
All-time hero - Graham Alexander. A real-life Roy of the Rovers.
Ben: My current favourite player is Stuart Beavon, who like I said works his socks off for the benefit of the team. My all-time hero would be Sean Gregan. He lifted our last trophy when we won League One in 2000, and gave many good performances before being sold to West Bromwich Albion in 2002. We called him 'God' for a reason!
Pride of Nottingham would like to Thank James (check out his band) and Ben (PrestonPlumber) for taking the time to answer our question. We would like to throw a special mention to our own WeymouthPie who helped locating James when we thought this feature would be lost.
Edited by notts-joe