PNE midfield ace back in favour

Neil Kilkenny gets the better of Chesterfield's Sam Morsy
Neil Kilkenny gets the better of Chesterfield's Sam Morsy
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Preston North End’s play-off win against Chesterfield featured returns for three players who have been on the fringes of the team recently.

Neil Kilkenny, Calum Woods and Alan Browne were all to play significant parts in the 3-0 second-leg victory at Deepdale which took PNE to Wembley.

For midfielder Kilkenny, it was his first start since February’s FA Cup clash with Manchester United.

Woods’ start at left-back was only his third in the last couple of months.

As for Browne, his substitute appearance in the 52nd minute to replace the hobbling Paul Gallagher was his first time on the bench since the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie at Walsall in January.

The Irishman had not even been on the bench since the FA Cup replay at Sheffield United on February 3.

North End manager Simon Grayson said: “We had looked at the first leg and thought about one or two things we needed to do different for the home game.

“My decision to leave out Chris Humphrey and Scott Laird was no reflection on their performances on Thursday night.

“They put in unbelievable shifts as wing-backs so they just needed freshening up.

“I thought that Neil Kilkenny would get us on the ball, get a bit more ball retention and help us pass it around.

“Kila did very well in that respect – he had a good game and kept us ticking over.

“Calum Woods gave us a bit more solidity in the back four…he’s a good defender.”

Grayson has always stressed the need for those outside of his starting XI to be ready to come into the team.

Over the last couple of months he has kept a pretty settled side, with just the odd change here and there.

Kilkenny’s shortage of action of late was down to John Welsh, Daniel Johnson and Gallagher forming an effective midfield trio.

He had come off the bench a number of times to good effect, his appearance at Bradford on Easter Monday when he was a half-time replacement for Welsh, springing to mind.

Browne has been in the same boat as Kilkenny, having been a regular pick in the first half of the campaign.

It was Browne, Kilkenny and Josh Brownhill who formed the midfield triangle, only to get squeezed out.

North End will monitor the fitness of Gallagher over the next few days.

His substitution early in the second half of Sunday’s clash was because of a foot injury.

Gallagher is the only player in the Preston squad to have featured in every league and play-off game this season, with him starting all but one of them.

Said Grayson: “Gally had his foot stood on in the first half and it was still hurting him after half-time.

“Hopefully it is nothing too serious and we will have it fully checked out.”

For North End, they have a longer-than-usual wait for the final because of how the 
play-off semi finals were scheduled.

The Football League were unable to schedule any play-off games for Tuesday and Wednesday this week as UEFA rules forbid a clash of televised matches with the Champions League.

So the schedule had to be squeezed somewhat, leaving a fortnight between the semi-final second leg and Wembley.

Grayson will adopt a business-as-usual approach in the coming days.

He allowed the squad a night out on Sunday and gave them Monday off.

“It is all about getting the balance right between the lads recuperating and us getting some work into them.

“A bit of rest will benefit them because we have some players carrying knocks these last few weeks which we have not made public knowledge.

“We want them fresh and right for the final.

“In terms of what we do, we won’t do anything differently than we have done all season.

“Before every game we work on making sure the players 
are mentally and physically right.

“What we have to make sure we do in the play-off final is play the game, not the occasion.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t get away from doing the things which have got us into this position.

“Beating Chesterfield over two tough games was only half the job.

“It is now up to us to go to Wembley and finish what we have started.

“We have had a really good season and we want to round it off by being promoted.

“Everyone will be focused to try and achieve that.”