PNE stepping up the pace

Alex Neil training at Fota Island this week (Photo courtesy of PNE)
Alex Neil training at Fota Island this week (Photo courtesy of PNE)
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Preston’s build-up to the new season will intensify – and move closer to home – this weekend.

After six days training in Ireland, Alex Neil takes his squad to Edgeley Park to face Stockport County tomorrow.

It is one of six friendlies North End play in the next fortnight as they prepare for the big kick-off on August 5.

Neil will have a look at the majority of his squad against Stockport.

He did that at Bamber Bridge a week ago, fielding a different XI in either half.

Whether Neil does that again or gives some players a slightly longer run, remains to be seen.

The trip to Fota Island was deemed a success, giving Neil plenty of time to work with the PNE squad.

He got to know the players away from the pitch too, with them all watching Cork City’s Europa League clash with AEK Larnaca last night.

Neil has been keen to assess all of the players and identify areas of the squad which need to be strengthened.

Defensive reinforcements look likely, in light of skipper Tom Clarke’s absence with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

There looks set to be 
movement out of the club too, with the squad quite big.

In the Bamber Bridge game, Neil used 23 first-team players and still had Clarke, John Welsh, Calum Woods and Josh Harrop sat in the stand.

Cork pair Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor will join the squad a week on Monday.

Right-back Woods is set to return to action tomorrow, his first run-out since damaging knee ligaments last July.

He was not risked at Brig after such a lengthy absence, an extra week’s training was deemed to be of more benefit.

In Ireland, Woods played in an inter-squad 11-a-side game as part of his fitness bid, and he came through it fine.

Harrop is unlikely to play tomorrow as he is carrying a slight calf injury.

The summer signing from Manchester United is set to come back into contention next week – North End face Morecambe on Tuesday, go to Accrington the following night, then host Newcastle a week tomorrow.

Another absentee against Stockport will be goalkeeper Declan Rudd.

He pulled a thigh muscle early in the Bamber Bridge game and faces a couple of weeks on the sidelines.

Welsh is unlikely to be risked just yet as he comes back from the calf injury which ruled him out of much of last season.

The midfielder tore a calf muscle at Brighton in October and suffered a few setbacks on the way back to fitness.

Admission to tomorrow’s game (3pm) is £10 adults, £7 concessions, £4 for 6-17-year-olds, while Under-6s are free.