Preston North End boss Alex Neil says composure, both on the field and on the terraces will be important as the season reaches its crunch period.
The Lilywhites boss says there are already signs of the pressure exerting itself on teams are both ends of the EFL Championship, with just 11 games to go until the final positions are confirmed.
“It is squeeky bum time,” the gaffer told iFollow PNE. “We have already seen signs of it in the last two games, where teams at the bottom end have picked up results. Barnsley have won three on the bounce; Luton have picked up a couple of good results; Wigan have started to rally.
“This happens every year and I wouldn’t want to be one of those bigger teams down the bottom end, because some of those smaller teams are used to being in that position and I wouldn’t back against them pulling them out of the bag again.
“In these last ten games a lot of things are required: Composure, experience, knowledge, quality and dealing with pressure is going to be massive.
“What is going to happen – and has happened already – is that the fans are going to get edgy at home and that is only going to get worse, because the closer you get to the prize, you can see it right in front of you and they will be desperate for success.
“What we need to do, is just play the game, keep our heads and leave everything on the pitch in every game; and if we do that, up until this point we have shown we are capable of being in the top six – we have merited it – and it is about maintaining it.
“Fans will be fans; we want them to get behind the team and if the boys are playing well and on top, they will always be in great voice, but it is those wee sticky spells where it is maybe not going our way or we concede first, we just need to make sure we try and lift the players rather than get on top of them, because for everybody connected with Preston North End, we have the same aim, which is to try and finish in that top six and we all want to do our best and play our part in getting us there.”
Fulham picked up a 95th minute winner against Swansea City at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night and Alex is well aware of the threat they pose heading into his side’s trip to the banks of the River Thames.
“What they have done, is to alter their patterns from time to time, depending on who they are playing against, but they are a really dangerous team,” he continued. “They have a really good squad and we know it is going to be a tough game.
“There is nothing better than a last-minute winner, for any team. The fact they had missed the penalty just beforehand, but got up that end again and scored will give them a boost.
“They will understand and recognise the importance of the game for themselves, as we do for us. After this game we got into the last ten matches and that really is the run-in where everybody will find themselves at the end of the season.
“We know it is going to be a tough match for us, but these are the sort of games you have to go and try and take something from if you want to end up in the top six, so you know what is required.”
The game is the club’s first visit since the removal of one of the side stands at Craven Cottage, but the manager is looking forward to hearing a vocal away following that sold out in a matter of days a few weeks ago.
“It will be quite strange to go and see that [Craven Cottage without the stand closest to the River Thames). I have been to Fulham quite often, but have not seen it without that stand yet.
“Our fans love Fulham – I don’t know if it is the Thames, but they seem to really enjoy going down there!
“It helps us when we take a big following and, hopefully, they will be in good voice and try and spur us on.”
The match is the final one of seven in February, which the PNE chief highlighted as a vital spell before it got underway and he has been happy with the return so far and wants to finish it with another positive result.
“We knew that this month was going to be tough fixtures and equally it was going to be a month that could have a big part to play in where we are going to end up.
“You looked at it and though ‘we really need to come through some of these fixtures and give ourselves a good chance’ and I think we have done great.
“We lost the last game, which was disappointing, but prior to that, our away form has picked up, at home we overcame a couple of difficult games and we have a three point gap on sixth place at the moment.
“We have overcome that little bit of a buffer and now we really need to kick on and see what we can do for the remaining games.
“It was important we started the year well. There was a little spell just towards the end of January when we dropped out of the top six and we needed to get back there as quickly as possible, because in the past we have been chasing, whereas this season we have been in there for the majority of the season and you would certainly rather be in there than chasing it.
“We just need to make sure that now we get over this hurdle at the weekend and then we have ten games left to see where we can finish,” he added.