Chopping and changing the Preston North End defence has not been ideal admits Alex Neil

Consistency has been difficult to find for Alex Neil in terms of a settled Preston North End defence this season.

Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 8:00 am

Lilywhites boss Neil has picked 11 different central defensive combinations over the course of the campaign.

That has mainly been down to injuries, while January’s sale of Ben Davies to Liverpool was also a factor.

Neil had recently settled on a pairing of Andrew Hughes and Jordan Storey at the heart of the defence.

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North End defender Andrew Hughes

However, a shoulder injury saw Hughes miss the 1-1 draw with AFC Bournemouth at Deepdale last Saturday.

In his absence, Neil put Storey with Paul Huntington, a partnership used previously for a short spell in November.

Neil said: “Andrew has had two shoulder issues.

“The first one was at Birmingham when he got pushed into the hoardings and hurt himself.

“Then at Millwall he got an issue with his other shoulder which kept him out against Bournemouth the other day.”

Hughes has joined Patrick Bauer and Liam Lindsay on the defensive casualty list.

Bauer is out for the season after having Achilles tendon surgery, while January recruit Lindsay has missed the last four matches.

The most commonly used defensive pairing this season has been Huntington and Davies, those two starting 11 Championship games.

The Bauer/Davies partnership used extensively last season only had six league outings this campaign.

Neil said: “The centre of defence is a crucial part of the team and what you want is consistency in your pairings.

“For a large part of last season, Ben Davies and Patrick Bauer, when fit, started most games.

“To chop and change as much as we have done this season has not been ideal for us. The majority of changes have been forced upon us.”

Occasionally Neil has gone with three at the back, with Storey, Lindsay and Hughes used as a trio in the games at Blackburn and Cardiff last month.

A one-off combination of Darnell Fisher, Davies and Hughes faced Barnsley before Christmas.

Hughes’ shoulder injury is being monitored ahead of the trip to Wycombe on Saturday, with there then being a quick turnaround for next Tuesday’s visit to Middlesbrough.

On the fitness front, Neil was pleased to have Sean Maguire back as a sub against Bournemouth, the striker coming on with Anthony Gordon in a double change.

Said Neil: “Sean wasn’t ready to start, at best he had 30 minutes in him. I was pleased to get him involved.

“We didn’t start young Anthony because he got a bruised foot last week which didn’t help him one bit when we played Millwall.”

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