Alex Neil pleased with Preston North End's progress going into the second-half of the season

Preston North End manager Alex Neil is happy for his side to be heading into the second half of the season right in the mix for the play-offs.
Preston manager Alex Neil on the touchline at DeepdalePreston manager Alex Neil on the touchline at Deepdale
Preston manager Alex Neil on the touchline at Deepdale

Neil’s men have a tough Boxing Day clash with Leeds at teatime (5.15pm) but they head to Elland Road in decent shape.

They have bounced back from a four-game losing run to go three unbeaten and Neil is satisfied with the progress made at the halfway stage of the 2019/20 campaign.

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An improvement which he is hoping to see sooner rather than later, is the away form.

Preston manager Alex NeilPreston manager Alex Neil
Preston manager Alex Neil

But the performance at Cardiff last weekend offered plenty of optimism on that particularly front.

Neil said: “The away form isn’t what it should be but if play as well as we did at Cardiff, it will turn.

“Just looking at how we have done so far, where we are in the league and what we are trying to do, if you had offered me that at the start of the season I would have snapped your hand off.”

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After the visit to Leeds, it is back to their Deepdale stronghold for PNE.

They host Reading on Sunday afternoon and then Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day (both 3pm).

Neil said: The Christmas schedule is always a bit hectic but I enjoy it.

“It is great for supporters, I imagine most of them off work and it is a chance to spend time with the family and then watch some football.

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“This can be an important spell for every club. If you can get yourself on a good run you can find yourself in a really healthy position after it.”

Ben Davies could return to the squad at Leeds, having been sidelined for more than a month with an ankle injury.

Darnell Fisher and Joe Rafferty serve the final game of their respective bans, so Tom Clarke is likely to deputise at right-back again.

Neil is looking forward to a tactical battle with Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa, a coach he has the greatest respect for.

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“I like teams who play with a purpose and an intensity,” said Neil.

“Leeds are a team who ask a lot of questions of you.

“If you let them put the ball in behind, they will do, if you drop off and let them play, they do that.

“If you open up they play through you, if you narrow it they play round you.

“They will do some things better than others. If they are not particularly good at one thing, we’ll let them do that.

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“But we will try to stop them doing what they are very good at, find a solution.

“I really enjoy playing against Leeds, albeit it is very difficult.

“You can see the detail that Bielsa goes into ready for games.

“He is a really clever man and an excellent coach.”