Neil praises backline after four clean sheets out of five

Alex Neil says his Preston North End side have put their heads where it hurts after conceding just one goal so far this season.

Saturday, 2nd September 2017, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:34 pm

The Lilywhites are yet to concede from open play after five Championship games, the solitary goal being Matej Vydra’s winner from the penalty spot in the 1-0 defeat at Derby County back on August 15

With the new man in charge promising attacking football on his arrival there were some concerns about how that might impact on PNE at the other end of the field.

Injuries to Tom Clarke and Greg Cunningham led many to believe Preston would dip into the transfer market to bolster the backline ahead of Thursday’s deadline.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But there was to be no new recruit, mainly down to the fact Chris Maxwell and his defence have four clean sheets in five games, the foundation of a promising start to the new campaign.

“It comes from people defending well and people sticking their head on the end of things when it comes into your box,” Neil said.

“I’ve been criticised in the past for my teams not keeping enough clean sheets but what happens if people head the ball for you is you’re in a better place to defend.

“We’ve not looked under threat in the last two games.”

After conceding goals from set pieces in pre-season and a penalty from a corner against Derby, Neil has also shifted from man marking to zonal marking with his side reaping the rewards.

“We’ve changed it and gone zonal because of the size we’ve got in the team,” the North End boss explained.

“That’s certainly helped us and what we’ve got is a couple detached to take care of people as they’re coming in.

“Like Rudy Gestede against Middlesbrough last Saturday.

“We gave him a bit more respect because of his size and presence in the box and we dealt with him really well on Saturday.”

Often a more continental approach, Neil admits zonal marking has been a significant shift.

“It can be a big change,” the manager said.

“Most players are used to man-to-man marking which is fine and that’s what I’ve normally done.

“But with this group changing things up and giving them a bit something else to think about sometimes helps and it has done in the last two games.”

Neil’s defensive options after the international break will be boosted by Calum Woods’ return.

The full back played 90 minutes of a behind-closed-doors game against Fleetwood 10 days ago.

Woods has not played since injuring ligaments in his right knee in a friendly at Oldham in July 2016.