WARY Blues boss Joe Royle is confident his side can answer the next big question, even though they are not firing on all cylinders at the moment.Two unconvincing performances have left Royle mindful of how big the next Blues' challenge is, as they go to Preston – a side looking to go 10 consecutive games unbeaten in the Championship.
WARY Blues boss Joe Royle is confident his side can answer the next big question, even though they are not firing on all cylinders at the moment.
Two unconvincing performances have left Royle mindful of how big the next Blues' challenge is, as they go to Preston – a side looking to go 10 consecutive games unbeaten in the Championship.
Royle said: "Whenever we are faced with a challenge we come through. It was said we faced a difficult Christmas period, yet we came out top of the table.
"Then, January was going to be a tough month with a lot of difficult games. So it was, but we stayed top. Now, the next challenge is away at Preston but it is one the players can handle."
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Since Ipswich beat them 3-0 at the end of last October, Preston have improved dramatically under new manager Billy Davies, who stepped up from being Craig Brown's assistant to earn the job on a permanent basis.
He has pushed Preston up into fourth place but the Scot has played down the Lilywhites' chances of being a Premiership club as being too premature.
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Royle, however, doesn't buy Davies' modesty. He said: "Billy is playing it down, and saying they are not ready for a promotion push yet, and I don't blame him for that, but they are in the play-off places and they are there on merit."
North End's home record is second only to Ipswich's and they have netted the same number of goals, 32, at Deepdale, as the Blues have at Portman Road.
Even without the suspended Eddie Lewis, Royle sees Preston as a danger and remembers how well they played in October, before Shefki Kuqi and Tommy Miller broke North End hearts with a quick one-two on the stroke of half-time.
Royle said: "Preston are having a great run and it was a tight game down here until a minute before half-time when we got a couple of quick goals.
"They are strong at home and their tails are up. I look at the players they have, like Chris Lucketti, Richard Cresswell and Dickson Etuhu, and they are a strong side in this division."
The North End board backed Davies with transfer funds during the winter, bringing in Patrick Agyemang, Chris Sedgwick, Matt Hill and Dave Nugent on permanent deals, while Filipe Oliveira and Rob Kozluk arrived on loan.
As at Ipswich, the old and new have mixed well and Royle is impressed with what Davies has done so far.
Although the duo have never crossed swords as opposition managers, Davies has ruffled Royle's feathers a little in the past.
The Town manager recalled: "I tried to buy him as a player, when he was at Rangers and I was at Oldham, but he went to Motherwell instead, which I couldn't understand.
"He has taken to the job very well and they are playing for him. Our reports tell us that they have a very good spirit and they are a very willing team."
Town spirits also remain high, despite losing top-scorer Kuqi for a month. The arrival of James Scowcroft has buoyed the club and its followers, and they have now been given an extra injury boost.
Kevin Horlock's confidence has proved well-founded after recovering well from a shoulder injury and he has been training. He is expected to keep his place in the squad and, if he doesn't start at Deepdale, he will against Watford on Tuesday.
Dean Bowditch has a badly bruised sore foot but is another who should be fine and keep his place in the squad.
The players are all on a day off today and will fly to the north-west on Thursday.