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League One play-offs: Preston stars can respond by smashing Spireites

Disappointment at Deepdale has become an all too familiar feeling where the play-offs are concerned.

Instead of celebrating automatic promotion to the Championship, which was in their hands, Preston North End are preparing for a 10th tilt at the lethal lottery, and Coral make Simon Grayson’s side 7/4 favourites to finally win this end of season competition, and odds-on at 8/15 to reach Wembley.

North End finished the regular League One campaign 20 points better off than play-off semi-final opponents and first leg hosts Chesterfield (6/4 to reach the final and 9/2 outsiders for promotion).

Soccer - Sky Bet League One - Notts County v Preston North End - Meadow Lane

Preston gaffer Grayson spoke of how ‘devastated’ his players were at blowing a top two finish when they lost at Colchester United last time out, and MK Dons went up automatically in their place.

“The dressing room is devastated, we’re all devastated as staff and the supporters will be,” he said in an interview with local radio. “We’ve had a fantastic opportunity to get promoted to the Championship on the last game of the season.

“We knew fate was still in our hands, we knew what we had to do and unfortunately we didn’t play as well as we could do,” Grayson continued. “What we’ve got now is a second opportunity. It’s difficult at this moment in time for everybody but we have to go again and psychologically take the players into the play-offs in a positive manner.”

Soccer - Sky Bet League One - Chesterfield v Crawley Town - Proact Stadium

As North End beat the Spireites in Derbyshire 2-0 back in February, they start as narrow 8/5 favourites to take a lead back to Deepdale. Chesterfield held Preston in a 3-3 thriller, coming back from three down, in the reverse fixture, but they look a little short at 13/8 to win without leading marksman Eoin Doyle (pictured above).

Because the Spireites sold their top scorer to Cardiff City mid-season, and come into the play-offs with no win in three, even a draw at 23/10 isn’t long enough. In departed Doyle’s absence, their other strikers leave a lot to be desired, so it’s to the attacking midfielders in support that Chesterfield coach Paul Cook will look.

Sam Clucas has four in his last five home games, where he has been pushed up to nominally lead the Derbsyhire side’s line. Odds of 15/8 say he shall score again anytime.

Soccer - FA Cup - Second Round - MK Dons v Chesterfield - Stadium MK

Like Clucas, consistent winger Gary Roberts (pictured above) bagged a brace in the Spireites’ previous victory in front of their own fans, and is a 7/4 anytime chance, while Jay O’Shea is a tasty 10/3 in that market.

Grayson faces a reunion with Chesterfield captain Ian Evatt, who played alongside and under the North End manager when they were both at Blackpool, winning promotion from this division via the play-offs in 2007. For the centre back to come back and haunt his friend, unlikely odds of 12/1 are available.

In Preston ranks, League One top marksman Joe Garner already has three goals, two of which sunk the Spireites on their own patch, against this opposition this term. It’s a 5/1 chance he bags a brace or better in this first leg, with even-money anytime odds.

Soccer - Sky Bet League One - Preston North End v Swindon Town - Deepdale

Garner (pictured above) is in hot form with five in four, and so is strike partner Jermaine Beckford after four in six. Grayson’s former favourite from their time together at Leeds United is better in the above markets at 7/1 and 5/4 respectively.

Don’t count attacking midfielder Daniel Johnson out either. He started the season with Chesterfield, but has ended it at North End, and is an awesome 11/4 to hurt his former club on his old stomping ground anytime, especially with six of his 11 goals coming on the road.

As Preston don’t keep many clean sheets on the road, back them to beat the Spireites with both teams scoring at a nifty 9/2, while odds for a 2-1 away win come in at 9/1.