Ryan Lowe feels his side are coming up against “one of the better footballing teams in the division” this weekend as North End face Derby County.
It’s been two and a half weeks without a fixture for PNE and they’ll return to action on Saturday when they make the journey to Pride Park to take on the division’s bottom-placed team.
That doesn’t tell the full story, though, given that Derby have had 21 points taken from their tally during the course of the season due to matters off the field.
Speaking to iFollow PNE, Ryan said: “I’m really looking forward to it. Especially Derby County, they’re fighting for their lives, they’ve done extremely well to get the points they’ve already got.
“For me, they’re one of the better footballing teams in the division with how they play and what they do with the set-up, so we can’t think [it will be easy] just because they’re bottom of the league.
“They’re bottom of the league through no fault of their players or the management staff definitely, and they’re really giving it a good go to try and escape that.
“They’ve been fantastic from start to finish so we’re definitely not going to think it’s going to be easy, but I’m really looking forward to going to the stadium.
“There’ll be a few of our fans travelling and it’ll be a packed house there because they’re rallying them through, supporting them, and it’s been a while – two and a half weeks – so just to get back out there with the lads is something I’m looking forward to.”
In charge of the Rams is former England striker Wayne Rooney, who Ryan feels would deserve the division’s Manager of the Year award, if he were to keep Derby in the Championship.
They have seven games left of their campaign to try and achieve that goal, whereas North End are in to their final eight matches.
Currently sat 14th in the table and three points short of the top half, the manager has his sights on a positive end to the campaign.
“I’m looking for a solid finish to the season and for us to collect as many points as we possibly can,” Ryan added.
“What I want my lads to do is to finish high and go and express themselves. I’ve said to go and show these teams how good you can be.
“We’ve shown that already this season. The lads have had a little bit of a mini break, but we’re back at it now, champing at the bit, and I’ve said ‘go and give it the best six weeks of your lives and see where it takes us’.
“Mathematically there’s still points there to say you can maybe just touch and get into the Play-Offs. Is it a step probably too far? Yeah, but it’s one we’re going to keep trying to do, just keep winning as many games as we possibly can and if we do that then we’ll see where it takes us.
“I’d love nothing better than for us to finish in the top half of the division and then that gives us that stepping stone for the following season to say that’s where you were last season, can we beat that and go one or two or three steps better next season, and that’ll be the aim.”
Watch the manager's full interview for free on iFollow PNE.