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It’s All About What Alex Neil Can Implement – Preston North End Pre-Season Report
Thursday, 27th Jul 2017 15:30 by HarryFromBath

In the ninth of a series of pre-season reports, HarryfromBath assesses the mood around the Championship clubs by delving into their forums, looking here are how the Lilywhites’ are getting on under new - and former Norwich - boss Alex Neil. Every team in the division will be covered by the start of the season.

“It looks like our keep it tight and counter-attack policy under Simon Grayson is to change to all-out attack”, “It would be refreshing to watch a style similar to Huddersfield, Fulham and Brentford”, “We are likely to see some goals at Deepdale this season. I just hope most of them are at the right end.”

The pivotal change at Preston this summer has been the departure of manager Simon Grayson in late June to take charge of Sunderland and the appointment of 36-year-old Alex Neil in early July as his replacement. Within weeks of his arrival, fans are witnessing groundwork on a new playing style.

“Encouraging signs so far”, “Most of this team will benefit from Neil’s style of play as most of them are technically able to play the system and knock the ball about. We have a really close-knit group of players that know each other well and we are adapting and going forward in the right direction.”

A Different Approach to Simon Grayson

“It’s fairly obvious apart from playing styles that Neil is totally different to Simon Grayson”, “I love his intent on playing a fast, passing game and working hard to win the ball back. His appointment is refreshing and presents a big but exciting challenge to all of our players and coaching staff.”

Alex Neil imageAlex Neil

“I like how blunt Alex is. He doesn’t try to sugar-coat things”, “He can get excited on the touchline which is heat-of-the-moment thing, yet he comes out after the game praising the players and saying how well they have done. That’s why I prefer him to Grayson. It’s clear to see he wants it more.”

“My only concern is his lack of experience as a manager when it comes to contacts with other clubs and players. Time will tell if he can sign the right quality and experience”, “Hopefully he will find the right balance as opposed to the erratic gung-ho style Norwich played in the last couple of seasons.”

Proportionate Changes to the Playing Squad

“This new style is more exciting but with this defence we are going to concede more. We look naïve at times throwing men forward”, “The defence has looked bloody horrific at times. The focus has been on developing forward patterns of play but every time a set-piece ball comes in, it is carnage.”

Jordan Hugill imageJordan Hugill of Preston celebrates late equaliser against Town

“We need a right-back, a centre-back and maybe a striker if Jordan Hugill goes, but all-in-all I am looking forward to the season.” Fans are unanimous in wanting the club to strengthen the backline, and the arrival this week of 23-year-old right-back Darnell Fisher from Rotherham is welcome news.

Four other additions have been made this summer with 23-year-old striker Sean Maguire and 22-year-old defender Kevin O’Connor arriving from Cork City. Goalkeeper Declan Rudd, 26, has been signed from the Canaries and 21-year-old striker Josh Harrop has switched from Manchester United.

The most notable departure has been 33-year-old veteran striker Jermaine Beckford who is now with Bury. Keeper Anders Lindegaard is currently a free agent and Simon Makienok, who played on loan at Deepdale from Palermo last season, has joined Dutch side FC Utrecht permanently this summer.

Jermaine Beckford imageJermaine Beckford and Neil Kilkenny

Pre-Season Line-Ups

Preston have had a busy pre-season on the pitch with six friendlies already under their belts. A 7-0 frolic at Bamber Bridge was followed by wins over Stockport (2-1), Morecambe (2-0) and Accrington (3-2). Two tougher home games have produced a 1-1 draw with Newcastle and a 2-1 loss to Burnley.


Neil chose to begin the Burnley fixture with a largely second-string side, but his starting XI (above) against the Magpies was closer to the line-up most Lilywhites expect to see when the season kicks off. The emphasis is on playing on the floor and wingers have been preferred on their wrong flank.


The team which finished the Newcastle game saw the inclusion of the highly-rated Harrop who is seen as an effective withdrawn forward. In contrast, many fans would not be surprised if striker Eoin Doyle and former Ipswich loan signing Ben Pringle ended up leaving Deepdale this summer.

Impact of the Playing Style on the Squad

With a new manager and new system being installed, players have had a chance to blossom having been given a clean slate this summer. The one player to thrive has been creative midfielder Daniel Johnson, who has benefitted by being pushed into a far more advanced role behind the striker.

Daniel Johnson imageDaniel Johnson

“Johnson is a different player to the uninterested lethargic character we saw last season. He is made for the passing system we are playing with the ball to feet”, “He was outstanding against Newcastle in a man-of the-match display”, “Most of the time under Grayson the midfield was being bypassed.”

Two new arrivals have made an immediate impression. “Sean Maguire is really lively. His first touch is sublime”, “He reminds me of David Nugent, a sharper, livelier version if that is possible”, “Josh Harrop is very much a link player who will thrive here. He’s a little lightweight but very enthusiastic.”

“My worry is that Jordan Hugill won’t fit in with the new system. He is more effective with the direct approach”, “He has not done much with fewer long or channel balls under Neil. I wonder if he fits in now”, “He has struggled to get in the game as we try to keep possession and not lump it forward.”

Playing Without Fear

“We shouldn't be afraid of playing to our strengths. In fact, that's precisely how we should play. We have a new manager who believes in playing fast, attacking, passing football and some very talented attacking players in our squad. It makes complete sense to utilise the talent we have in our players.”

“There are some big clubs in our league with plenty of money and some very expensive players. But that doesn't mean we should fear them and play in a timid way. We need to harness the talent we have, maintain our great team spirit and capitalise on the hunger and desire our players have.”

“Our players will want to prove themselves against far more expensive so-called better players and teams just as many of them already have. Grayson and his staff did well for us and now it's Neil's chance to take us further. I for one can't wait to see us playing a more attacking style of football.”


The busiest Preston forum is the very polite and knowledgeable PNE Online.

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Photo: Action Images

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brian_a_mul added 15:39 - Jul 27
Thanks for the report! PNE will be interesting and exciting to watch this season.

Daryl Horgan is absolutely going to tear the league apart.
Sean Maguire could be the leagues top goalscorer, he is match fully fit and full of confidence having just transferred from Cork City.

PNE could be among the early pace setters

ipswichboi added 01:52 - Jul 28

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