Alex Neil aiming to finish the month with Preston North End in the top six

Alex Neil wants Preston to end their January fixtures with a return to the play-off places.

Ben Pearson will be back in the PNE squad at Oakwell
Ben Pearson will be back in the PNE squad at Oakwell

North End make the trip to Barnsley tonight knowing that a win at Oakwell would send them back into the top six.

The game has been brought forward from Saturday due to the Tykes being in the FA Cup and it is PNE’s last match of the month ahead of a busy February, which Neil thinks will be a crucial spell.

Neil said: “If we can go and get a win there with no one else around us playing, we can put ourselves in the play-offs.

“It is up to us and we aren’t in bad form going into it.

“I know people were saying about the Charlton game being our first win for a bit, which is right.

“When you are on a good run, people don’t count your cup results or anything like that. If you are on a poor run, though, they count the cup, your friendlies, what you’ve done in training.

“Our form in the last eight league games is three wins, three draws and two losses.

“That is certainly not poor form – it’s not great either.

“I’ve described us as being patchy and that is not necessarily performances, it is results I’m talking about.

“You can’t tell me we didn’t play well at Cardiff before Christmas. We were excellent and should have won.

“Had we won that and got across the line at Leeds, we would be sat here having a different conversation now.”

After tonight’s game, the Lilywhites do not play again until February 1, when they host Swansea at Deepdale.

Said Neil: “I think February will decide a lot of things because you’ve got seven games to play.

“Once you’ve got through February there are only 10 games left and that’s you done.

“When you get to the end of January and the window shuts, everyone has got what they have got – you can’t get more players in.

“You go into February with what you have and there’s all those games to try and pick up points from.”

Neil will have Ben Pearson back in the squad tonight 
after illness kept the midfielder out of the Charlton game at the weekend.

It might be too soon for Paul Gallagher, though, who is nursing a groin injury.

Said Neil: “Ben did some training on Sunday and he was in yesterday.

“He had a sickness bug and the biggest issue was that he hadn’t taken any food on board.

“Naturally he would have been weak from that and not able to play.

“Once he was able to get some food in him and take plenty of fluids, there was an improvement.”

Pearson had two loan spells at Barnsley in his Manchester United days before joining PNE four years ago