PRESTON’S visit to Hillsborough tomorrow brings to mind another pleasant spring day, in 2005.
It was the morning after the Owls had won promotion to the Championship at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Preston and West Ham fans were down for breakfast in our hotel and it was about to become their turn to experience a play-off final. The Hammers won 1-0 and went up to the Premier League.
That year of the Owls’ 4-2 victory against Hartlepool showed that play-offs are nothing to be frightened of - though Dave Jones and Milan Mandaric could be forgiven for being a bit more wary in view of their near-misses with Cardiff and Leicester.
If Charlton take a point against Leyton Orient at The Valley tomorrow then they are mathematically sure of being in the play-offs at least, regardless of other results.
We are at that stage of the season when the ifs and buts are beginning to evolve into certainties.
If only Wednesday could be sure of how their quest for automatic promotion is going to end up.
At least the Owls are approaching the stage when they should be confirmed as top-six finishers, barring a dramatic collapse of which there is no sign whatsoever.
Their lead over seventh-placed Stevenage is six points. The Borough have a game in hand. None of the promotion probables is home and dry yet, and the hopefuls still have hope.
The Blades had to be expected to beat Chesterfield at home on Wednesday; they did so to go two points ahead of the Owls, and improved their goal-difference advantage to 13.
Tomorrow’s fixtures include Carlisle (sixth) v Huddersfield (fourth) and MK Dons (fifth) v Brentford (ninth).
Even the Bees have a chance of finishing in the play-offs, according to Clinton Morrison, who is on loan with them and has seen his new team win their last two games.
Stevenage are at home to 21st-placed Wycombe so will be looking to keep up the pressure on the teams above them.
There is that word again - pressure. The good teams are the ones who are good enough to keep going, as Wednesday have been doing lately, with Dave Jones doing a sound job.
The new manager could hardly have wished for a better start. He has managed to combine a change in the team’s style of play with results: four wins and a draw in his first five games.
It still looks like being a three-way fight for second place between Wednesday, United and Huddersfield - though Jones is right to insist that his team are in the chase for the title while ever it is possible for Charlton to be overtaken.
Huddersfield are three points behind the Owls, have a game in hand on the Sheffield clubs and have a goal difference 11 better than Wednesday’s.
It promises to be some game at the Galpharm Stadium a week tomorrow.
But first things first: Preston at home tomorrow, with a 12.45 kick-off because of live coverage by Sky and a chance to put pressure on rivals who all play in the afternoon.