Dave Seddon’s PNE pressview

Preston North End's Manager Alex Neil
Preston North End's Manager Alex Neil
Share this article

Alex Neil, talking with the press this week, slipped into the conversation an interesting statistic about Preston North End’s work-rate.

Neil revealed that PNE, as a collective, had run 5km more than their opponents in one game this season.

That was a considerable gulf and underlined what the Scotsman wants from his players.

Intensity, running, a high press, a willingness to want the ball back as quickly as possible.

The Championship table after eight games shows that the approach is suiting North End – they head into the visit of Millwall in fourth place with 15 points to their name.

Preston’s supporters seem appreciative of the high intensity approach.

The reaction to the wins against Birmingham and Cardiff, has been as positive as I can recall for a while.

It is not only the amount of yards being covered which is being appreciated.

The ball is being moved well too, the move for the third goal at Birmingham a point in case.

Daniel Johnson’s pass to open up the Blues defence was inch-perfect, the square pass from Sean Maguire into Tom Barkhuizen’s path as unselfish as any you will see this year.

Neil made the point about running 5km more in one of the games when the subject of injuries was on the cards.

There have been a few players missing at points this season, Ben Pearson still on the sidelines this weekend.

Working at the intensity they do, there will be muscle strains and fatigue.

That is the payback and Neil was warning that there will be times when he will be without players.

Hence a willingness to dip into the squad and rotate when the need arises.

Although Neil has upped the intensity, we should not forget that hard-work was the basis for what North End have done over the last few years.

Simon Grayson’s tactics might have been different to that of Neil, however the team always put a shift in.

Fans always like to see hard work and that should be a starting point for any team.

You add more layers to that and in Neil’s case, it’s the pressing, quick movement of the ball and aggression in and around the box.

Once they shook of their first-half slumbers against Birmingham, Preston were to display a ruthlessness to their play which saw them clinch the 3-1 win.

Stood further along the touchline from Neil as PNE turned the games on its head was Harry Redknapp.

That was to be his final act as Birmingham manager, with him sacked within two hours of the final whistle.

Are Preston the low water mark when it comes to the end of the line for a manager or is it just coincidence that a few have lost their jobs in the aftermath of facing them?

It is probably coincidence but the statistics make for interesting reading.

Five managers went soon after playing North End in the 2015/16 season.

Last year, Aston Villa gave Roberto Di Matteo his cards less than two days after they lost at Deepdale.

Now Redknapp can be added to that list.

Birmingham were in quite frightful form, defeat to PNE their sixth loss in a row.

Any manager would be under pressure after such a run, so perhaps Redknapp going last Saturday should not have come as too big a surprise.

What raised eyebrows was the fact his sacking came after a £16m summer outlay on 14 players.

Redknapp argued that he barely had chance to work with them all before the rug was pulled from under him.

Birmingham will counter that if the squad is as good as Redknapp was claiming, the next man in should have no problem getting them going.

I caught the tail end of Redknapp’s post-match press conference, unknown to him at the time his final act as Blues boss.

Being without key players through injury formed a lot of mitigation for the defeat he had just watched.

Sat in the same chair a few minutes earlier, Neil would have been entitled to list the players who he was missing.

Greg Cunningham, Tom Clarke, Darnel Fisher and Pearson were all back home nursing injuries.

One last word on Harry’s sacking, as a journalist I do appreciate his willingness to speak in the media.

Many managers when they get the sack, go to ground and the only word from them is often a bland statement released through the LMA, one which could have been drafted by anyone.

Redknapp chose to do things differently, talking to both the Birmingham local media and national radio.

I must say there were some nice words from him about PNE, in particular Josh Earl who seemed to catch his eye.

Birmingham is in the past now, the immediate future for North End are the games with Millwall, Hull City and Sunderland.

If Neil’s men come out of the other end of those with a healthy points return, it would make a few people sit up and take notice.

Grayson’s return to town with Sunderland is clearly one to look forward to, but minds must first be on the meeting with Millwall and then the midweek trip to Hull.