Preston North End manager Simon Grayson is still looking towards the automatic promotion places when the Lilywhites travel to Bristol City on Saturday.
North End have returned to winning ways with back-to-back victories at Deepdale in the last fortnight and despite it being a tall order, Grayson is still harbouring hope of an automatic spot.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, the gaffer said: “Our aim is still looking above; I know it is a bit of a pipedream still and things have to go in our favour to allow that to happen, but why not keep working hard and seeing where it takes us?
“Teams are dropping points and if we can keep hanging in there to the last two or three games of the season, then the pressure still mounts and mounts and it is hard to get over that finishing line at times.
“So that is where we are aiming for and in terms of Bristol City, I think nobody would have had them down in the bottom half of the division when the season started, one of the favourites for the division, big squad , big budget being spent and they have got it going the last few weeks.
“Got a few good results and Steve Cotterill will want a few more results just to make sure they are safe which I’m sure they will be.
“We know we are in for a tough game, but they will be respectful of where we are and what we are capable of doing.”
This week was the first time since early March that the Lilywhites have not had a midweek fixture to contend with and Grayson was happy to get his players on the training pitch, as well as to oversee the rest and recuperation of his squad ahead of the run in.
“We gave the players Monday off and had a good session Tuesday before Wednesday off as normal and then two days of preparation,” continued the boss.
“It has been a long demanding season, so when you have a clear week, it is nice to freshen it up and get the players away from each other and the environment, because there is an opportunity to get ready for another tough game.
“At this stage of the season, all you are doing is keeping them nice and sharp, physically and mentally, keeping them refreshed, keeping them focused on what they need to do because it is a long season.
“You do sessions that are quite repetitive, warming up every day with the fitness coach, so it is basically you are cutting the number of minutes that you spend on the training ground, but still keeping that short intensity to keep them nice and sharp and ready for the games that are coming up.”
North End have a full deck of cards to shuffle with if need be this Saturday, Scott Wiseman being the only doubt with a knee injury and the manager was full of praise for the work done by Stuart Beavon and Joe
Garner in recent weeks as they look to make the two forward berths their own.
Grayson also has the ability to rest players for fatigue reasons or to avoid suspension as he plots his path to the League One finishing line.
Grayson continued: “Scott Wiseman obviously had his injury a week or so ago and is making good progress, although I still think he is going to be touch and go for the weekend, but good news in that respect is there isn’t too much damage.
“Other than that, everybody seems fit and ready to go for another big game.
“When we put them back into the team together, we knew what we were going to get from them [Beavon and Garner].
We have Beavon who is a livewire and will chase and hold balls up and you have got Joe who scores all the goals and contributes in the way he does, but they both know that they need to be looking over their shoulder with the other players in and around the squad.
“We brought Craig Davies into the squad and he started well and I have seen Beavon doing well in training and in the games he has come on and I felt that was the right way for going, but everybody still plays a part in the squad.
“Kevin Davies has probably not played as much he would like to do over the last few weeks, but it is a long season for Kevin as well and to have him around us and still be able to put him on to the teamsheet whenever we need to do so is great from my perspective.
“It is great to have the calibre of them four players within this squad which is great for everybody.
“Players will have at the back of their minds the booking situation at times, but you have also got to make sure it doesn’t affect you going and playing your normal game, because if you start pulling out of tackles, the lad skips past you and goes and scores and you can lose a game.
“There is a cut-off point which seems a bit stupid in some respects because there is only three or four games after it [suspensions].
“If they are going to do that cut-off point, maybe they should bring it a little further forward.
“We have picked up a few bookings here and there but that is just part and parcel of football.”