Preston North End boss Alex Neil vows to play squad game at Deepdale

Ben Davies got the nod instead of Tommy Spurr against Reading.Ben Davies got the nod instead of Tommy Spurr against Reading.
Ben Davies got the nod instead of Tommy Spurr against Reading.
Alex Neil will play a squad game with Preston this season in a bid to adapt to every challenge the Championship will throw at his side.

The North End boss made four changes for the 1-0 win over Reading at Deepdale on Saturday to good effect.

Josh Earl, Ben Davies, Josh Harrop and Sean Maguire all came into the starting XI as Jordan Hugill’s volley handed the Lilywhites the points.

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Davies’ selection – ahead of Tommy Spurr – alongside Paul Huntington at the back was one example of Neil picking a particular player to combat a particular threat.

“I was conscious of Mo Barrow’s pace on the right-hand side and Josh Earl was making his debut,” said the PNE boss.

“For me, I needed to put who I deemed to be quicker in there to make sure he was covering and giving Josh a hand.

“Tommy Spurr’s had an unbelievable start to the season for us and has done great.

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“He’s done really well and can count himself unfortunate not to have started on Saturday.

“It’s not about any individual though, it’s about us as a team winning and if I need to change somebody about, like I did with Callum Robinson, putting Sean in, and taking Alan Browne out and putting Josh Harrop in, then that’s what I’ll do.

“It’s about winning the game, it’s not about one player.”

The squad mentality extends beyond those available to play.

Stand-in skipper Greg Cunningham’s knee injury is a big blow for Neil with no exact timeline given on his return.

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It means he joins club captain Tom Clarke – out with a ruptured Achilles tendon – on the treatment table but Neil insists they still have a big role to play.

“Those lads will still contribute and help us,” he said.

“They’ll keep the young lads right, give them advice and things like that.

“They’re a great influence around the place and we’re looking forward to having them back. In the meantime the lads showed on Saturday what they can do.”

Earl proved a revelation in place of Cunningham as he put in a performance beyond his 18 years at left-back.

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Amongst his many attributes, Neil says the defender’s stature was an added bonus, the boss having previously bemoaned a lack of height in his side.

“If he was 5’8” and a great player he’d still play,” he said.

“The fact that he’s 6’4” certainly helps though.

“You look at Saturday, we were conscious we gave a penalty away against Derby so we went zonal for corners.

“When you look around you see Jordan Hugill, Ben Davies, Paul Huntington and Josh Earl – that’s not a bad four to go and head the ball. They’re big lads.”