Dave Seddon's PNE Pressview
If you are in any doubt about what Alex Neil wants from his Preston players, position yourself near the technical area and have a listen to him.
This past week, I have watched Neil three times on the touchline at Stockport, Morecambe and Accrington.
It was interesting to watch him, more so hear what he had to say during the trio of friendlies.
Those fans sitting in the Invincibles Pavilion will have a ringside view – and a chance to listen – when PNE host Newcastle at Deepdale later today.
Neil is overseeing a style change within the North End squad, one which requires some work but should not be overly difficult to deliver.
He wants them playing out from the back, the ball moved with fluency through the midfield and up to the attack.
Casual backward passes are frowned upon, the water bottle in Neil’s hand bearing the brunt of his frustration at Stockport last week.
The Scotsman wants quick incisive passing, good movement, players prepared to receive the ball on the half-turn ready to try and hurt the opposition.
It is interesting to watch the transition in style, how the players are trying to adapt.
Under Simon Grayson, North End were a bit more rigid, that said some of their attacking play as last season progressed was very good to watch and effective too.
Neil will be looking for a balance between his more dynamic approach and also keeping solid at the back.
Judging by the friendlies so far, the 4-2-3-1 formation is his system of choice.
He might have others up his sleeve – Neil mentioned 4-3-3 to me when we met at his first press conference just over a fortnight ago.
But the 4-2-3-1 does seem to lend itself to the approach he wants.
Against Morecambe on Tuesday night, Ben Pearson and Daniel Johnson were in the central midfield berths.
Pearson was more of the holder, getting the ball off the back four and building from there – but also acting as a shield for the defence.
DJ had more of a licence to push on and I agree with the comments of fans who think such a role could help him find his form after quite an average time last season.
The trio of players behind the main striker could well be key to making things tick.
Rotation along that line seems to be encouraged and a couple of players seem to be nailing-down positions.
Callum Robinson has been operating in the No.10 role, a departure from the left-wing or central striker positions we’d become accustomed to him playing.
Neil has been favouring Tom Barkhuizen on the right of the three, coming in off that side and being difficult to pick-up.
Ben Pringle and Daryl Horgan have shared duties on the other side.
Whether this means the door is back open for Pringle after a forgettable first term at Preston or is him filling in, remains to be seen.
But in these last three games, he has seen plenty of the ball and got involved.
The role of out-and-out front man has been shared between Jordan Hugill and Stevie May.
Hugill hit the headlines this week by reason of a £2.5m bid from Birmingham being turned down.
As in January when two offers were made by Ipswich, the Birmingham interest has raised plenty of debate.
Some supporters feel that PNE should be snatching Harry Redknapp’s hand off and taking the cash.
Others have scorned the size of the bid in the current inflated market.
I’m in the latter camp, in that I think £2.5m is vastly under-valuing the lad.
Let me make it clear, I’m not debating the merits of Hugill’s play.
This is not about whether he should have scored more than 13 goals last season and about chances missed.
What we are talking about here is his market value.
There is a demand for strikers who put the ball in the net – Hugill did that a dozen times in the league in 2016/17.
For me, that takes the starting point way beyond £2.5m, double that and a bit more I’d say.
Bear in mind, Hugill’s former club Port Vale will get a decent cut via a share-on clause.
Other clubs put huge prize tags on players, so why should PNE be any different?
If Neil and Peter Ridsdale went shopping for a striker who had scored goals in the Championship, they would be quoted big bucks – much more than £2.5m
That is three clubs who have shown a strong interest in him since the turn of the year – Ipswich, Wolves and Birmingham.
Hugill must be doing something right to catch the eye of others.
It will be interesting to see how this one pans out and whether further interest gets drummed up.
Is Hugill this summer’s Joe Garner? This time last year, it was Garner who was the subject of speculation.
I believe Hugill has much to offer Preston, even if he is not a 20-goal a season man.
He scores goals in and out of the box, provides a strong physical presence and can hold the ball up.
Parts of Hugill’s game need a layer or two of polish, but that applies to a lot of players – rarely are you the finished product at this level.