Preston’s stunning run of form has sparked a late dash for the play-offs, with eight wins in the last 12. North End are without a defeat in those games, winning six in a row on the road.
Seani Maguire’s last-gasp winner against Birmingham City on Saturday has given fans real hope of a top six finish. That win leaves North End seventh, outside of the play-offs on goal difference alone.
Tricky games are coming through. After a visit to Reading, North End take on Sheffield United, Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion; all top four clubs.
Fans are dreaming of a shock play-off place, having been bottom of the Championship table after 10 games. With just eight games to go, Preston are well and truly in the mix.
Now, data experts FiveThirtyEight have offered their projection on the Championship landscape. Norwich City and Sheffield United are backed to go up automatically, with Leeds dropping into the play-offs.
From a Preston perspective, they’re predicting that North End will finish eighth, just two points off the play-offs. Middlesbrough are predicted to finish four points ahead of North End, with Villa then on 70 points.
They give North End a 22% chance of reaching the play-offs, and just a 5% shot at promotion. Having narrowly missed out last season, the same again would be a bitter blow, and leave fans cursing early results.
Just five points from the first 10 games could haunt us. Squandering a 2-0 lead against Bolton, losing 3-2 at home to Reading, losing at Sheffield United after coming back from 2-0 down to draw level. Those slip-ups could be costly.
Recent home draws with Derby, Nottingham Forest and Bristol City would also be even more frustrating in this scenario. So would the 2-1 defeat at Rotherham United on New Year’s Day.
Given the tough fixtures coming up, it’s no surprise a data company would doubt North End’s chances. Yet Preston and Alex Neil have been doubted before, and will again be looking to spring a shock by gatecrashing the top six.