PNE boss not afraid to experiment

Neil Kilkenny should be fit for Saturday's opener
Neil Kilkenny should be fit for Saturday's opener
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Preston North End boss Simon Grayson is not afraid to shake things up this season.

The Lilywhites start the new League One campaign against Notts County at Deepdale on Saturday.

PNE enter the new term on the back of a five-match unbeaten run after drawing 1-1 with Premier League new boys Leicester City in their last pre-season fixture at the weekend.

Grayson has experimented with different line-ups and formations, and utilised his 27-man squad throughout pre-season.

Several young players like Josh Brownhill, Will Hayhurst, Alan Browne and Ben Davies have stood out during the friendly fixtures.

And Grayson hinted that there may be a few surprise selections in next Saturday’s starting XI.

PNE started in a 4-1-4-1 formation against the Foxes and the boss insisted he would continue to adapt his side throughout the season.

He said: “We tried different formations all throughout the pre-season games and sometimes depending on the level of opposition that you are playing, you have to be respectful of them.

“So against Leicester we played that way but it is not to say that we can’t play and change it to any system given at any time of the season – or during a match.

“I’ve got a real close idea of where the team is going to be come Saturday. Certain players will have come out with a lot of credit over the pre-season games and that is what it is there for.

“Everyone has started and come back to pre-season on an even playing field and one or two players can be really pleased with how things have gone for themselves.”

Grayson was pleased with his side’s performance against the Foxes.

He said: “It was obviously the last pre-season game. We knew that the level of opposition we were going to be up against meant we weren’t going to have plenty of the ball.

“Leicester have fantastic players, energy, movement, rotation and we had to be disciplined without the ball and get certain key elements working well. But also when we got the ball we caused them a few problems so overall a satisfying performance.”

Grayson is without long-term absentees new boy Kyel Reid and Lee Holmes for Saturday’s opener.

Neil Kilkenny came off in the victory against Burnley due to injury but Grayson expects the Aussie to be fit to face the Magpies.

He said: “Killa came off on Tuesday night, his calf was a little bit tight so that was just a precaution we are expecting him to be back in training early part of next week.

“Joe Garner we are sort of only giving 10 or 15 minutes today.

“Gally wasn’t allowed to play and we are respectful of Leicester’s decision. But everybody has got plenty of game time over the last couple of games. Kyel Reid and Lee Holmes will probably miss the start of the season.

“Reidy was always going to be the case and Lee obviously had this pectoral muscle injury, which has been quite a freak injury but he is making progress and we will just see where he goes.”

Grayson’s men have lost just one of their seven friendly fixtures – and that was a narrow 2-1 home defeat against last season’s Premier League title runners-up Liverpool in July.

North End notched their fourth win in a row after beating local rivals and the Foxes fellow top flight new boys Burnley 2-1 last Tuesday.

They couldn’t extend that run to five successive victories but Tom Clarke’s 57th minute header sealed a draw and ensured they still ended pre-season on a high.

And Grayson believes the squad have achieved their pre-season goals and a string of impressive performances bode well for the new campaign.

He said: “It isn’t necessarily all about results - it is what you can see within the performances but if you are going to get results out of them you want them to be positive and that is what we did against Leicester.

“Certainly if these were league games we would have settled for three points against Burnley and one against Leicester.

“But it is all boding well for the season, we have still got a bit of work to be done on the training pitch.

“I think now everybody is sensing that the new season is just around the corner and can’t wait for it to start.”

Grayson has added to his squad throughout the summer and took time to praise new additions Andy Little, Jordan Hugill, Calum Woods and Jamie Jones for slotting seamlessly into the side.

He said: “I’m pleased with them, they have settled into the group really well both on the training pitch.

“But also with their work on the pitch where they have settled into the system and how we play very easily.

“That is testament to them but also the group that we have got as well.”