Alex Neil plays to strengths in bid to get balance right for PNE

North End centre-half Paul Huntington
North End centre-half Paul Huntington

Preston North End boss Alex Neil says he prefers to look for an ‘outstanding quality’ in the players he works with rather than take the jack-of-all-trades approach.

Neil likes to use a player’s strengths to their full advantage and pair that up if needs be with a team-mate who offers something else.

He uses PNE’s centre-backs Paul Huntington and Ben Davies as an example of how players with different qualities can work so well.

“I try and look for in players an outstanding strength,” said Neil.

“Some players might be very good at most things but they tend to be ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ type of thing.

“If you can find someone’s particular strength, you can balance it off with whoever you play next to them.

“Look at our defence – while Hunts is really dominant in the air, Ben Davies has the pace and covering ability, he is the perfect foil for him.

“At Sunderland in the last game, stretching them down the middle with Sean Maguire didn’t work as Sunderland were so deep.

“We put Callum Robinson up the middle to drop off and Sean stretched them instead with his speed off the flanks. We have some really good 
balance at the moment, guys doing a particular job.

“Alan Browne’s energy and legs are incredible, allowing us to put pressure on teams at the top end of the pitch.

“Other guys in the squad are a more traditional No.10 than Alan but they don’t set that trigger off as much.

“That can hamper us going the other way, hence why we like playing Alan in the way we do.”

Neil, meanwhile, says it was only after working with the PNE squad for a short time last summer that he saw their ability on the ball start to come to prominence.

Having been more of a counter-attacking team under Simon Grayson, Neil said it had been hard to judge their technical ability.

“When I was at Norwich and was prepping for the game with Preston, it was difficult to highlight technically how good they were,” said Neil.

“Preston were very much a counter-attacking team and so didn’t have the ball for any length of time.

“So when I first came here, I wasn’t sure technically how good the players were.

“Once I’d had three or four weeks with them, I saw the quality they had and what we could work to improve.,

“The lads have shown that ability this season.”