Tom Davidson admits Preston Grasshoppers are treating every remaining game in National Two North like a ‘cup final’ – but believes the Lancashire club can still turn their fortunes around. Photo Credit: (Mike Craig)

Last year, Paul Arnold’s side finished in seventh place on their return to the fourth tier, but this season hasn’t followed the same upward trajectory.

Hoppers currently find themselves embroiled in a relegation battle and as we approach the final 10 games of the campaign, Preston are 12 points adrift of safety.

The men from Lightfoot Green have only managed four wins so far this term and with a critical fixture against Wharfedale to come in Round 19, Davidson has underlined Preston’s mentality for the coming weeks.

“Frustrating is probably the overriding word,” he said. “It has been massively frustrating to be fair, especially off the back of last season and the way we finished.

“We were looking to try and push on from finishing seventh last year so we were looking for that top four or five.

“Every game in the near future is a cup final. Obviously, if it doesn’t go our way on Saturday, it is not the end of the world because there would be 11 games left so still 55 points to play for, but we are heading into this period knowing it will be a dogfight.”

The reason behind Hoppers’ tough campaign has mainly been down to injuries as well as fine margins which have cost Preston in games.

Last weekend’s narrow 11-10 defeat to Sheffield Tigers in challenging weather conditions proved to be another frustrating afternoon for Arnold’s men and Davidson hopes his side can reignite their confidence sooner rather than later.

“With the amount of injuries we have had in key positions, it has kind of crippled us a bit,” the fly-half told

“We are getting lads back but as soon as we get lads back, a couple of lads are dropping out again. PJ [Millea] had a heart attack after the Otley game before Christmas and [Matt] Lamprey has had an operation this week for cellulitis so it is just about trying to keep key men together.

“We have a talented group of players here, but we are possibly just lacking confidence or maybe lacking leadership on the field at times to either close games out or go and win them at the end.

“Thinking back to earlier in the season, the games I watched, Wharfedale away was one we should have won as were Huddersfield and Hull at home. When you are low on confidence, it is hard work. Looking back at last year when we were high confidence, the ball bounces the right way so it is those fine margins for us at the moment.”

Davidson highlights Preston’s trip to Wharfedale back in October as one of the matches which could have gone in their favour, but Hoppers have their chance to avenge their 20-19 defeat this weekend.

Dale travel to Lightfoot Green in Round 19 and the Yorkshire outfit are a club which is close to Davidson’s heart, having plied his trade at the Avenue for a decade.

He admits it is always difficult to balance his emotions when he faces his former club, but with both teams fighting to avoid the drop, any sentiment will be put to one side for 80 minutes.

He added: “It is a tough one for me because Wharfedale is home. I had 10 years there in National One and National Two and made around 200 appearances.

“All my mates are there. My girlfriend’s family are 30 metres from the ground so if you cut me open, I’d still bleed a bit green. With the current predicament, you have to focus on it being just another game. We’ve said every game is a cup final no matter who it is. I have been playing long enough to realise that as soon as that whistle goes, emotions are out of the door and we have got a job to do.”

Dale arrive in Lancashire on the back of a 49-12 win over Scunthorpe and 13 points from their last five games has kept the Greens away from the trapdoor.

Rob Baldwin and Jon Feeley’s side are currently four points clear of the drop and Davidson is aware how crucial Saturday’s meeting at Lightfoot Green is for both sides.

“Wharfedale will be out to get us and prove a point and so will we. If they win, it takes them out of the relegation battle a bit so it is a key game for them, but if we can get four or five points and restrict them, it drags them back into it and mix’s it up again.

“As much as it is the physical, technical and tactical battle, it is more the mental side of things. Last week at Sheffield, we showed that because it is a hard place to go. The conditions were awful and we did front up so it is about rising to the challenge again on the weekend.”