Pivotal return to Deepdale for Sunderland boss Simon Grayson – the Preston view

Simon Grayson applauds the fans during his time as Preston manager
Simon Grayson applauds the fans during his time as Preston manager
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September 30 was always going to be a key date in Preston’s fixture list by reason of playing a Sunderland team fresh down from the Premier League.

Relegated clubs often provide stand-out games – Newcastle and Aston Villa were similar last year.

But the ante was upped somewhat for this particular game by reason of Simon Grayson’s departure from North End to join Sunderland at the end of June.

His exit had the potential to disrupt a steady ship at Deepdale, however the appointment of Alex Neil has seen a smooth transition and, as we reach the second international break of the season, Neil has certainly got the Lilywhites blossoming.

So what of Grayson’s return to Lancashire tomorrow?

It is something which the Preston supporters have been talking about in the last few days, especially the kind of reception he receives.

The smart money is on Grayson getting a warm round of applause before the start, before normal business resumes at kick-off time. Then he becomes just another opposition manager.

Don’t expect his name to be sung during the game, as Leeds fans did whenever they played North End.

Not everyone will applaud Grayson.

The haste of his exit on June 29 remains an issue for some – to be ready to take training at Preston that morning to signing on the dotted line at the Stadium of Light by early evening was to some a blink of the eye job.

Grayson was a popular figure at North End – his record speaks for itself.

Appointed in February 2013 to steer the club clear of the threat of relegation, he did just that in a matter of a few games.

The following season, North End reached the play-off semi-finals, then, in May 2015, Grayson oversaw a memorable victory in the play-off final at Wembley – a 4-0 demolition of Swindon Town.

Two 11th-place finishes followed in the Championship – delivered on a budget - probably a steadiness which caught Sunderland’s eye in the summer.

Grayson certainly put foundations in place at Preston, ones which Neil is now looking to build on.

But Neil is not following the same building plan, with the Scot having implemented a different playing style, one which encourages his players to be on the front foot rather than a heavy reliance on the counter-attack.