Flexibility is the key for PNE boss

Middlesbrough's Dael Fry battles for possession with Preston North End's Joe Garner
Middlesbrough's Dael Fry battles for possession with Preston North End's Joe Garner
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Preston North End manager Simon Grayson says flexibility will be their friend this season as they adapt to Championship life.

The Lilywhites lined-up in a 3-4-1-2 formation for Sunday’s opener with Middlesbrough.

It won’t always be the system of choice, Grayson having a couple of others to use.

“We are flexible in how we play and the systems we use,” said Grayson.

“Against Middlesbrough we went with three centre-backs as Boro were strong through the middle and we didn’t want them playing through us.

“We will play a couple of different systems through the season and play to our strengths.

“It is horses for courses, although whatever system we decide to play, we will aim to be solid and we’ll always have the players to create and take chances.”

Grayson had kept his cards close to his chest during the pre-season when it came to how North End would play against Boro.

While he had switched to three at the back during a couple of the friendlies, in the main PNE had started with a flat back four.

In training though, the squad had been getting used to the 3-4-1-2 for 10 days leading up to the season.

Three at the back is a system which Grayson has played extensively over the last couple of seasons.

Against Boro, he used new signings Marnick Vermijl and Greg Cunningham in the wing-back slots, either side of centre-halves Tom Clarke, Paul Huntington and Bailey Wright.

Further up the pitch, Grayson was pleased with how Joe Garner and Will Keane linked-up in attack.

With Jermaine Beckford sidelined by injury, the pair played in a central partnership.

Said Grayson: “Will and Joe worked well together.

“They looked a big threat, both have a great work ethic and an eye for goal.

“We have the option of Jordan Hugill too, he plays in a different way and we put him on towards the end to see if we could change things a bit.

“I thought Joe might have got a penalty in the first half when he got behind the defender

“The lad slightly had his arms around Joe and I would have taken the decision had it come along.

“Had it come at the other end, I might have had something else to say!”

An interesting statistic to come from the game was the number of times Garner won the ball in the air.

He came out on top in 18 aerial duals he went up for, only one other player having bettered that in the Championship since the start of last season.

Garner had a great battle with both Daniel Ayala and Boro’s 17-year-old debutante Dael Fry.

After the Deepdale opener, North End now hit the road for three away games in a row.

On Wednesday night they go to Crewe for the first round of the Capital One Cup.

Then it is on to MK Dons at the weekend, facing a side who pipped them for automatic promotion in May.

Next Tuesday, Preston cross the Pennines to tackle Rotherham at the New York Stadium.

It adds up to a busy early spell and Grayson could opt for some squad rotation at Crewe, although he is keen to progress in the competition.

“Drawing with Boro was a good start and we went to build on that, maintain the level we showed,” said Grayson.

“We were good on the road last season and will go into these three games with plenty of confidence.”