UP FOR THE CUP
A look ahead to Preston and Bradford’s big FA Cup ties
PRESTON boss Simon Grayson is banking on a double dose of divine intervention when Manchester United visit Deepdale in the FA Cup tomorrow night.
The fifth round clash – the first time the illustrious duo have met in 43 years – falls on the first anniversary of the death of Deepdale legend, Sir Tom Finney.
Yet more poignantly for Grayson, it is also the first big match of his 30-year career to be missed by best mate Steve Garbett.
Garbett, a former England youth player and FA talent scout, died in September following a ten-year battle with prostate cancer.
Grayson will ride from London to Amsterdam in his memory this summer but, for one night at least, is hoping his old pal can dole out a bit of charity.
“I met Garby on a coaching course at Leeds when I was 17 and we were friends ever since then,” says the former Leeds and Huddersfield boss.
“He was 62 when he died, so relatively young by today’s standards. He had lots of different types of treatment but towards the end there was nothing more they could do. To go on so long was remarkable really.
“I miss him a lot. I even miss his criticism. He always thought he could do better than me, even when I was playing in the Premier League! He followed my career through thick and thin. As a player, as a manager, he was always there and he’d certainly have been there tomorrow night.
“Hopefully he’s looking down on us. And with it being Sir Tom’s anniversary too, I’m hoping between the two of them they can get together and sort something out.”
The experience of losing such a close friend will also influence Grayson’s pre-match team talk.
“Life’s too short to worry about things at work. Your health and happiness – those are the things that really matter,” he added. “That’s what we’ll be saying to the players ahead of this game and every other game.
“Go out, express yourself and enjoy every minute because there are a million worse ways to spend your days than running around on a football pitch.”
Or not running around a football pitch in the case of Joe Garner. Preston’s 14-goal top scorer suffered a detached tendon in November and his absence coincided with a seven-match winless run that saw Preston fall off the pace.
However, a 3-1 victory over cup kings Sheffield United in the fourth round replay at the start of February sparked a three-game winning streak – capped in midweek by two goals for the returning Garner. And with Callum Robinson also back on loan from Aston Villa to
bolster the for- ward line, the Lilywhites will tackle the Premier League giants with their strongest squad in months.
“We lost Joe, we lost Callum, we lost Jermaine Beckford,” says Grayson. “We basically lost all our attacking options. It was tough, but Joe’s return is a huge boost for everyone at the club.”
Several pundits – including Preston fan Mark Lawrenson – have tipped the Deepdale outfit to cause a shock. Yet Grayson, 45, who famously turfed Fergie’s men out of the competition whilst managing Leeds, isn’t having it.
“I watched them against Burnley this week and yes, they didn’t play to their best. But when you’ve got Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao,Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie… they have an endless list of world-class players who can hurt anyone.
“People are saying they aren’t having the best of seasons but they’ve lost one of their last 18 games. Not many teams go on a run like that.
“We know if they play to their maximum there’s not much we can do. But we do feel they have weaknesses we can exploit. And if they have an off day, we’ve got a chance.”
BEST MATES: Preston boss Simon Grayson and, inset, Steve Garbett