A FAMILIAR face will greet Leeds United at Preston on Boxing Day as the Whites come face to face with their most successful former manager of the last ten years.
Garry Monk might be about to change that but Preston boss Simon Grayson is still responsible for United’s highest-placed finish since their 2006 Championship effort of fifth.
The 2011 placing of seventh remains the best it’s been in the Championship since Kevin Blackwell took Leeds to fifth in 2006. Grayson’s win rate bettered Blackwell’s as in 169 games in charge of Leeds, Grayson oversaw 84 victories for a 49.7 per cent win rate.
Having now taken in 205 fixtures for Preston, the 47-year-old has enjoyed a similar record with the Lilywhites who have 95 victories under his tenure for a 46.34 per cent win rate and something of a second coming this season after a miserable start. After losing his job at Leeds in February 2012, Grayson had just under a year in charge of Huddersfield Town until January 2013.
The switch to the Lilywhites arrived one month later with North End staring at possible relegation from League One but United’s former manager kept the Lancashire side up and relegation fodder became play-off finalists the following season. After defeat to Rotherham United in the play-off final of May 2014, Grayson and Preston went one better the following year when beating Swindon Town with Grayson having been a permanent fixture back in the Championship since. North End then finished two places and three points above Leeds last term – in 11th – with a final-day draw with the Whites at Deepdale consigning Steve Evans’ team to finish in 13th. Leeds are a different breed seven months on under Monk.
But Preston too are now threatening to better last year’s position with the club having stood by Grayson through this season’s rocky start. As at Leeds, the Ripon-born manager has proven his capabilities since.
Matters looked pretty grim for North End after the first three league games of the season which all ended in defeat – a 1-0 loss at Reading and back-to-back defeats at home to Fulham and then Derby. At the time, Leeds and Preston were battling with each other near the bottom of the league.
A 2-0 win at QPR stemmed the pain but a 1-0 loss at Ipswich Town and a 2-1 defeat at home to Barnsley left North End with three points out of a possible 18 and five league losses from six games. Yet Preston have lost only three league games since and four consecutive league wins at Deepdale – against Cardiff, Wigan, Aston Villa and Huddersfield Town – have proven integral to their recovery. Only leaders Newcastle United have won at Deepdale since September and, rather like at Leeds, North End’s poor start is now all but forgotten with the club 11th in the table and on a run of one defeat from seven games. Grayson is again proving himself a strong manager – as Leeds know all too well.