Preston boss Alex Neil ready for real stuff to begin

Tom Barkhuizen
Tom Barkhuizen
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The Alex Neil era kicks-off properly tomorrow afternoon when Preston face Sheffield Wednesday at Deepdale.

After a month in the job, Neil leads the Lilywhites in Championship action for the first time.

Neil is looking forward to the season’s opener which he thinks will be a good gauge as to how the PNE squad have adapted to his methods.

“All the games so far have been good for us but they are not the real McCoy,” said the North End boss.

“It only gets down to the nitty-gritty when the team is trying to get points on the board.

“The first game is the one who want to get kicked-off and you want to start well.

“After that, they group into each other and there is a lot of work to be done between each game.

“I think this game will be a good gauge as to where we are at the moment.

“I’ve watched the game when Preston played them last season and it finished one each – I thought we played very well in terms of dominating large parts of the game.

“Listen, we have nothing to fear. We will be ready for the game and I just hope the lads do themselves justice.”

All eyes will be on the team which Neil picks, with him having the majority of the squad to choose from.

The main talking points will centre of who partners Paul Huntington – Tommy Spurr or Ben Davies – and whether Marnick Vermijl or Darnell Fisher gets the nod at right-back.

Who leads the forward line, assuming Neil goes 4-2-3-1 like he has done all pre-season, will be interesting too.

Sean Maguire has caught the eye in the two games since arriving from Cork City, his match fitness razor sharp.

He looks to be competing with Jordan Hugill for a start, Hugill now recovered from the groin strain which kept him out of the last two friendlies.

Hugill’s height could be a factor in both boxes, with Neil acknowledging recently that PNE were not the tallest side.

Whoever plays up front will have Tom Barkhuizen and Callum Robinson to the side of them.

Barkhuizen was Preston’s top scorer in pre-season with five goals, putting in a series of impressive displays.

Neil’s initial target for the campaign is to better last term’s position.

“We’ll be trying to improve on where we finished last year,” said the Scotsman.

“For the last two seasons we have finished 11th.

“It is not going to be easy but with the squad we have got so far and with what I’ve seen so far, we are more than capable of having a good year.”

With a big crowd expected, fans are asked to buy tickets and collect season tickets in advance.