By Connor Billington – reporter
Since Christmas, Preston North End have picked up an impressive ten points from the last possible 15, losing just twice in their previous six league matches.
The penultimate fixture of 2015 saw Preston leave Yorkshire empty-handed for a second week in a row, losing 3-1 against Huddersfield Town.
Just 48 hours later, Hull City were the visitors to Deepdale as PNE looked to end the year on a positive note by securing all three points.
The only goal of the game came from a set-piece, Paul Gallagher diverting Daniel Johnson’s free-kick past Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor in the 66th minute.
Up first in 2016 was another match at home, this time it was the turn of Rotherham United to make the trip to Lancashire.
Ten minutes before the interval the Millers took the lead, Tony Andrea heading Danny Ward’s cross past Johnstone and into the back of the net.
North End were handed a way back into the match, Eoin Doyle equalizing for the hosts from close range after the visitors failed to clear a free-kick.
With the match destined to finish all square, United’s Jonson Clarke-Harris diverted Marnick Vermijl’s throw into the back of his own net to gift PNE all three points.
After back-to-back league wins, an FA Cup 3rd round trip to Peterborough didn’t go to plan.
Goals from Martin Samuelson and Conor Washington at the ABAX Stadium ensured it was United, managed by former PNE manager Graham Westley, who progressed to the 4th round.
PNE returned to Championship action a few days later, Greg Cunningham scoring the decisive goal to come back and haunt his old club, as North End recorded their third successive league victory.
After both teams seemed to cancel each other out in the first-half, an own goal put the visitors ahead eight minutes into the second-half, but it was short lived as City’s Aaron Wilbraham equalized just two minutes later.
Ten minutes from the end, Cunningham’s diving header secured all three points against the team which deemed him surplus to requirements in the summer.
Preston’s next match was also away from home, this time Ipswich Town were the opponents.
In the reverse fixture, it was the Tractor Boys who took the lead but Daniel Johnson’s 7th minute strike saw Grayson’s men establish an early advantage at Portman Road.
North End’s lead lasted just over half an hour, Town’s Daryl Murphy hitting a fierce strike from distance which nestled into the bottom corner.
North End’s return to Deepdale three weeks after their last home match saw them lose 3-1 against Brentford.
The Bees took a 2-1 lead into the interval, Alan Judge adding a second for the visitors after Reach cancelled out Jake Bidwell’s opener.
John Swift killed the game off late on, his shot taking a wicked deflection leaving Johnstone helpless and subsequently sealing a 1st defeat in five league games for North End.
Into February, PNE faced a tough test against Derby County, who are aiming to seal automatic promotion by the end of the season.
The Rams spent almost £20million last summer in a bid to secure Premier League football next season but there was no discernible difference between the two sides, who played out a goalless draw at the iPro Stadium.
PNE moved up two places into 14th after the draw at Derby extending the gap between them and the relegation zone to 11 points.