Alex Neil says Preston North End must keep a tight hold of Fulham ace Mitrovic
Preston North End will face old foe Aleksandar Mitrovic at Craven Cottage tomorrow with Alex Neil of the view the Serbia striker is just what is needed for a Championship promotion push.
Mitrovic has scored seven goals in four appearances against PNE for the Cottagers and Newcastle since 2016.
He is the division’s leading scorer with 23 goals, the latest a stoppage-time winner against Swansea on Wednesday night.
North End manager Neil said: “Top strikers in the Championship will score you 20-plus goals a season.
“If you want to get out of this league you go and sign a Dwight Gayle or a Mitrovoic, someone like that.”
Mitrovic scored four goals in two matches – five days apart – for Newcastle against PNE in October 2016.
In March 2018, he netted both of Fulham’s goals in a 2-1 win at Deepdale.
Then earlier this season, Mitrovic struck what proved to only be a consolation in Fulham’s 2-1 defeat to PNE.
Said Neil: “In the game at our place I thought that we shepherded him as well as anyone has done this season, we dealt with him great.
“Mitrovic is the reason why Fulham are where they are in terms of his goals.
“I’ve said it before that goals get you out of this division.
“Most teams at the top end of the table have a talisman who will pitch in with between 15 and 25 goals per season.
“I think that is why it is remarkable where we are in the table – we have had to spread that out over five different players.”
Neil is not surprised to see Fulham challenging to make a quick return to the Premier League.
Theirs is an expensively assembled squad, Mitrovic for example costing £22m from Newcastle.
“You look at their squad and you expect them to be a good, competitive team in this league,” said Neil. “They spent £100m last year in the Premier League and retained a lot of players they wanted for this year.
“Fulham would have expected to be in the top two or three with that squad.
“Equally as other teams have shown, if you go there and play as well as you can against them, you can get a result.
“It will be a tough game down there, Fulham move the ball well, are slick and really dangerous.
“They are the type of side like West Bromwich and Brentford who are capable of scoring four or five.
“We need to make sure we are set up well there.”
Fulham’s last-gasp victory over Swansea came on the back of a shock 3-0 home defeat to Barnsley and a 1-1 draw at Derby County last Friday night.
PNE’s clash with them at Deepdale on December 10 saw Sean Maguire and David Nugent on target.
Both sides played much of the game with 10 men, Denis Odoi sent off for elbowing Patrick Bauer in the 28th minute. Joe Rafferty was then red carded late in the first half for a foul on Joe Bryan.