Fleetwood boss Graham Alexander issued a reminder to his side that they ‘belong’ in League One on the eve of their historic Lancashire derby.
Town take on promotion-chasing Preston North End at Highbury tomorrow (2.15), when a sell-out crowd is expected at Highbury in front of the Sky TV cameras.
Fleetwood have been no slouches themselves in their debut League One campaign, still in touch with the play-off race with eight games to play.
And Alexander made it clear his side deserves to be involved in such a big game.
He told The Gazette: We have had to realise quickly that we deserve to be here. We came into this league not knowing what would come our way and how we would go.
“But we had to believe we could go to Deepdale, Ashton Gate and Bramall Lane, play them on a level playing field and get something out of it.
“That’s slowly become the reality – we came back from two goals down at Valley Parade last week, another massive stadium.
“This is the progress we’ve made and it’s important to have the mindset that we should be here, playing these teams.
“It’s a continuing challenge to keep that at the forefront of our minds.”
For the thousands packed into the Highbury stands the game is a great occasion, but in the changing room Alexander wants to keep things as normal as possible.
He knows he won’t have to stress the scale of the game to his charges, including Town’s former North End players.
He said: “We know it’s a big game but it’s the same as all the big games. It’s a case of doing everything we can to get a result.”
The game is one of the most hotly anticipated in the club’s history and Alexander believes his team won’t make the sort of mistakes that cost them the points at Deepdale in October.
Alexander added: “Whether you have a previous connection to Preston like, like I have, or not, it’s a massive club.
“We felt that in the previous game we handled ourselves really well (going 2-0 up only to lose 3-2). We were unfortunate not to get anything. But our players learned a lot about the step up in level.”
“I think we proved in the first hour at Deepdale we can go to any opponent in this division and do well.
“But in the last half hour there were things we could have managed better. But the players have taken that on board and there has been a steady improvement this season.
“We did make naive mistakes at the start of the season against this kind of opposition – our willingness to press forward and keep on attacking, even when we were winning.
“We just needed to learn a little bit of game management. We have certainly learned from experiences like that.”
Alexander believes everyone at Fleetwood should feel proud to stand toe-to-toe with North End.
He said: “To host Preston North End in the same league is a fantastic feeling for everybody.
“Playing such a massive rival brings it home how far the club has come.”