Defensive duo were key in big Preston win says Alex Neil

Alex Neil was delighted to have been able to call on two of his most experienced defenders in Preston’s vital victory over Sheffield United.

Paul Huntington and Tom Clarke had both been doubts for the Bramall Lane clash due to hamstring injuries.

Paul Huntington salutes the Preston supporters after the victory over Sheffield United

Paul Huntington salutes the Preston supporters after the victory over Sheffield United

Huntington recovered to play the full match, skipper Clarke coming off the bench in the 67th minute as North End defended their 1-0 lead.

Neil said it would have been too much of a risk to start both in such a big game.

And earlier in the week he had expected Clarke to have been ahead of Huntington in terms of making a recovery.

Neil told the Post: “Hunts surprised me because I thought he was the worse of the two injuries.

“Earlier in the week, I thought Tom would have started. As the week went on, Hunts trained and didn’t feel any after effects whereas Tom was still aware of his injury.

“It wasn’t stopping him from playing but he was still conscious of it.

“So we started with Hunts and Ben Davies.

“To be honest, I didn’t have any intention of bringing Tom on but the way the game unfolded I felt that we needed to bolster the centre of defence.”

Clarke joined the action in the 67th minute as part of a double substitution.

Neil had changed to three at the back and wanted the skipper’s experience in there.

Said Neil: “Sheffield United played an expansive shape and system which we found hard to deal with.

“The last two times we had played them, they had beaten us 1-0 in the FA Cup and we won 1-0 at our place.

“There hadn’t been a lot in either of those games so the plan had been to go there and burst the game open because we needed to win. I hadn’t wanted to make it a cagey affair or a stalemate because we wanted to win.

“Unfortunately we didn’t play well enough to burst it open and it became a cagey, sit-behind-the-ball game.

“But we got the result and that all that matters, no one will have been talking about the performance.

“I thought we played a lot better in the three games we lost against Reading, Derby and Sheffield Wednesday.

“We won’t dwell on it, we’ve taken the three points and were thankful for them.

“Hopefully we will play a lot better this weekend against Burton at our place.”

The clash with Albion on Sunday lunchtime (12.30pm) represents an opportunity for PNE to make a late arrival in the play-offs.

For that to happen they have to beat the Brewers and hope sixth-placed Derby lose at Pride Park to Barnsley.

Like Burton, Barnsley need the three points to hold off the threat of relegation.