Neil chasing a new look for North End
Alex Neil is a man in a hurry and a man on a mission if his manner on the touchline in Preston's win at Stockport was anything to go by.
The Scotsman wants a new approach from the PNE side he recently inherited, with a greater emphasis on moving the ball quickly and playing out from the back.
After five days on the Fota Island training pitches, this visit to Edgeley Park was the first chance to put things into practice in a game situation.
Some of what Neil wants worked, some bits did not, which is to be expected in a friendly game. This is what such matches are for, to iron out the creases.
County’s press box gave a close-up view of the technical area and Neil was an interesting figure to study as he directed the play of the boys in dark blue.
Passes going backwards were frowned upon, as were long balls from the back.
A few times, Neil’s water bottle was tossed to the floor in frustration.
Positive forward play was encouraged and applauded loudly by Neil – shouts of, ‘Pass, pass pass’ audible.
The move which led to Tom Barkhuizen’s goal was what he wanted to see more of, with the ball played to feet and switched swiftly.
“Tommy’s goal typified what I want,” said Neil.
“We had a few triangles, the ball was played to Callum Robinson’s feet, he turned and slips one in for Tommy to go straight through on goal.
“Particularly when you are working with younger players, repetition is good for them.
“You need to repeat the message until they begin to do it naturally.
“We are not at that stage at the moment with just a week’s worth of work. But I think we can see a significant difference to the way we have maybe played in the past.”
It was 4-2-3-1 for Preston in both halves but with a whole change of outfield players at the interval.
The first-half display was slicker than that in the second.
Robinson found space well in the No.10 role, Barkhuizen was his quick self, and Daniel Johnson’s range of passing was good.
North End had to come from behind to win it, Jason Oswell having given County a 27th-minute lead.
Robinson levelled seven minutes later, slotting home a Barkhuizen cross.
The roles were reversed for PNE’s second in the 40th minute, Robinson’s pass opening up the defence for Barkhuizen to drive a powerful finish into the roof of the net from just inside the box.