It is fair to say that neither Nigel Clough or Simon Grayson punched the air with jubilation when their teams were paired together in the FA Cup fourth round draw, writes James Shield.
Tomorrow’s match at Deepdale, the third meeting between these two League One rivals since August, promises to be a tough but decidely unmagical affair.
But as Michael Doyle, the visitors’ captain reminded earlier this week, these are the matches upon which marches to Wembley are made.
“We’ve had some great runs and we’ve beaten teams above and below us. They are just as satisfying without a shadow of a doubt. And it should be, because we are professional footballers. You’ve got to treat every single one the same way. Embrace them.”
United understand the importance of winning seemingly unglamorous ties more than most having beaten the likes of Colchester and their namesakes from Cambridge en route to the semi-finals of the competition last term. No late win at the Weston Homes Community Stadium on a biting cold November afternoon, no contest with Hull City beneath the national stadium’s iconic arch five months later.
Or, as Doyle acknowledged during a break in training at the Redtooth Academy, how they can reinvigorate faltering promotion bids. United were 23rd in the table and without a win away from home in 13 outings when Chris Porter’s penalty condemned Joe Dunne’s side to defeat in Essex and triggered a sequence of results which inspired an unlikely play-off bid.
“When it all started, one thing that stuck with me before Colchester, was the manager saying we hadn’t won away from home, “Doyle said. “We’d had a bad start, David Weir lost his job and the gaffer came in.
“Getting that away win was a big achievement. Later on, we went on an amazing run and went from the relegation zone to seventh in the end. What happened in the cup really built us up and gave us a lot of confidence.”
“It’s great to play at the big grounds against the really big names. Anyone will tell you, it does bring you up a notch and I think that’s only human.
“But it’s not all about that. It’s about games like this too. We faced so many different challenges in the FA Cup last season and, if we hadn’t have done well against the likes of Colchester and Cambridge, then we wouldn’t have had those games against Aston Villa or even have reached Wembley.”
United travel to Lancashire in chequered form but emboldened by their experiences at White Hart Lane in midweek where they narrowly lost the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur.
Preston, beaten in South Yorkshire two weeks ago, appear a shadow of the squad which not so long ago seemed destined to force itself into the top two but has now taken only three points from its last four games.
Nevertheless,with talents such as Jose Baxter, Paul Gallagher and Jamal Campbell-Ryce at their disposal, both clubs are more dangerous than their respective league positions, seventh and fourth, suggest. Likewise, Clough and Grayson can also claim mitigating circumstances with injuries, congested fixture schedules and coveted status contributing to their difficulties of late.
“I don’t read the press because I live away. I don’t hear anything or read it either,” Doyle said.
“But I’m sure, after losing at MK Dons last weekend, everyone was saying we were looking ahead to Spurs. Nothing could be further from the truth though, personally speaking. And I didn’t hear any of the lads talking like that either.
“I remember every result but I forget them quickly as well. That’s how it’s got to be”
United beat Queens Park Rangers in the previous round while Preston overcame Norwich City.
Doyle said: “I’m looking forward to it, Preston is a big game. We’re not too far away now from getting to the stage where everyone starts getting excited.
“Every single match, in the cup and the league, from now on is going to help define how our season goes.”