Preston boss and striker discuss Sunderland clash and Simon Grayson

Preston manager Alex Neil.
Preston manager Alex Neil.
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Preston North End boss Alex Neil believes he and his squad are building on the work done by Simon Grayson.

The Lilywhites are one of the surprise packages of the early season, sitting fifth in the Championship table with the best defensive record.

Neil was impressed with the team spirit of the side he inherited in the summer, but says he is taking them to the next level.

He said: “Simon Grayson did a good job here – he steadied the ship and got promotion, but it doesn’t change anything for me going into the game.

“Sunderland are under pressure, so they will come and try and win the game, because that’s what the club and the fans will expect.”

“I wouldn’t say we were favourites. If you base things on form, you could argue that, but I don’t think you can base games on form,” he added.

“We have a great team spirit, but that was here before I came,. But what I do think is we are more of a team on the pitch now.

“We’ve made a better start to the season than the last few years, but it’s about maintaining it.

“I think we’ve just got to be careful we don’t play the situation rather than the game.

“The occasion is going to be probably a bit of mixed emotions for people because, obviously, Simon’s coming back for the first time. They will want us obviously to win but they will probably have good feelings towards Simon because he obviously did a good job here, which is understandable.”

Neil, who has spoken before of his difficulties last season at Norwich City after their relegation from the Premier League, admits he empathises with Grayson’s situation.

The Scot said: “I think they are one of those teams that because they have been in the Premier League for a number of years, they’ve assembled a squad that are well paid and who have been performing and functioning at a higher level.

“The true test is, when you come down, have you got that fire and hunger in your belly to get yourself back to those type of levels?

“I ’s a difficult job for anyone to take on and Simon has taken it on. I’ve said this before about certain things that there are some issues that you’ve got at clubs that take longer to resolve and I think, at the moment, Simon is probably suffering for that at Sunderland.”

Grayson has received a glowing reference from Preston striker Callum Robinson, whom he took to Deepdale from Aston Villa.

Robinson said: “It will be a little bit strange. He was here for a long time and all the time I’ve been here before the summer.

“He helped me and got those first-team appearances, which was the main thing coming on loan.

“He came in for me a few times and was a massive part of my development from League One to the Championship. I’m grateful that he gave that chance.”