Rejuvenated Neil pushing Preston North End to the next level
Preston North End are back in Championship action tonight against Hull City at the KC Stadium.
Alex Neil’s side currently sit fifth in the table after a superb start to the season. A win this evening could feasibly see them go a point behind the league leaders.
With four wins, four draws and a solitary defeat from their nine league fixtures, the Lilywhites under Neil have caught many by surprise.
Taking a look at the set-up, we pinpoint three reasons why Preston have impressed so far this term.
Neil looks a coach reborn at Deepdale
After his brutal sacking at Norwich City, it would have been easy to dismiss Alex Neil as a flash-in-the-pan.
The 36-year-old had a remarkable start to his managerial career with back-to-back promotions at Hamilton Academicals and Norwich.
However, the Canaries’ relegation from the Premier League saw Neil temporarily lose his mojo as the Carrow Road outfit struggled back in the Championship.
Neil admitted that he swerved away from the convictions that had initially made him such a successful manager. He then paid the price.
But after a short break, a fire has been re-lit under the Scot.
He has returned to the tactics and style of play that he had become renowned for. And Preston are now benefiting from that.
Good foundations already in place
Previous manager Simon Grayson did a wonderful job at Deepdale before his summer move to Sunderland.
The former Leeds United gaffer spent over four years at the Lilywhites, taking the club from League One to the Championship.
Despite a minuscule budget to play with, Grayson left a solid, well-drilled group of places in place for Neil to tinker with.
There’s a real British and Irish flavour to the squad with just two players from the first-team brought in from outside of England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland.
That has provided Neil with a gritty, no-nonsense foundation which is a natural element within the fabric of a club like Preston.
Players to suit the style
The WDW record, as well as the goals for and against column, tell their own story.
With just three goals conceded in nine games, Preston have the best defence in the league.
However, they have only scored nine goals – an average of one per game. That’s the lowest in the top half of the table.
Neil has altered their approach, reverting to counter-attacking tactics. And that certainly seems to suit the players.
Solid as a rock at the back, Daniel Johnson runs the midfield with assuredness. The former Aston Villa youngster is a box-to-box, all-action kind of player.
Sean Maguire – a summer signing from Cork City – has been somewhat of a revelation.
A number nine in Ireland, the ex-West Ham United forward has pace and intelligence and has thrived in a number ten role.
His link-up play with Tom Barkhuizen and the irrepressible Jordan Hugill has been a staple of Preston’s displays.
As far as PNE fans are concerned, long may it continue.
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