DJ backs PNE front men to step up to plate

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Alex Neil has a new conundrum to solve.

With a catalogue of defenders out for the last few weeks, the Preston boss is now without strikers Jordan Hugill and Sean Maguire for the Friday night derby with Bolton.

Johnson has two goals to his name so far this season

Johnson has two goals to his name so far this season

The former is suspended and the latter set for a long spell on the sidelines after having surgery on a hamstring injury.

Stephy Mavididi, Tom Barkhuizen, Callum Robinson and Daryl Horgan are amongst those who could get the chance to shine in the final third.

Whoever gets the nod, Daniel Johnson is confident North End will show they have goals throughout the team and are not overly reliant on two men.

“We’ve got a lot of goalscorers in the team whether they’ve been playing or not,” the Jamaican midfielder said.

“Jordan being out is a big miss for us, as is Sean being injured.

“But Callum Robinson, Daryl Horgan and Stephy Mavididi – I’m sure they’ll step up to the plate.

“They’re the type of players who want to express themselves at the top end of the field.

“They want to go out there and create chances and get goals and assists.

“We’ve got a lot of creativity in the team. We’ve not really got individuals in this squad, it’s one of the best I’ve been in personally.

“We’re a team and we work well as a team. It’s just all about us on Friday. We’ve got to concentrate on ourselves and be ruthless in both boxes.

“Defend well and then go up the other end and take our chances.”

As at the back in recent weeks, it may be that someone has to fill in out of position when an improving Wanderers side come to town. “We’ve got a few versatile players that can play in different positions,” said Johnson, who has scored twice himself this season.

“That’s the good thing with the squad. No one sulks or gets frustrated about it. Everyone wants to play their position at the end of the day but we can see the circumstances with a lot of injuries.

“If you need to do a job for the team then the boys will do it.”

Whichever way Neil elects to go, the PNE boss and his players know they head into a crucial clash on the back of four straight Championship defeats.

The Lilywhites have slipped to 14th in the Championship after flying out of the blocks.

“Recently with the injuries, it’s been really frustrating,” said Johnson.

“But once you get out there on the pitch it doesn’t really matter what’s been going on behind the scenes or anything like that.

“You’re on the football pitch and it’s 11 v 11 and you’ve got to get the job done and win the game.

“This group is still really together.

“We all stick by each other even though we’ve not got the results that we thought we deserved in the last couple of games.

“We’ve not beaten ourselves up about it, we just dust ourselves down and go again.

“We’re not a group that thinks, ‘What’s going to happen here?’ or anything like that. We’re just thinking about how to fix it in the next game and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

Preparation has not been ideal. Chris Maxwell and Stephy Mavididi being away on international duty has reduced a stretched squad further as Neil has looked to right a few wrongs on the training field.

There has been time to recharge and reflect though, Johnson indicating PNE have gone back to what made them such an exciting prospect in the opening couple of months of the new Championship season.

“It’s been a bit difficult,” Preston’s No.11 admitted.

“You can’t do exactly what you want to do training-wise. Having small numbers has been a bit frustrating but we’ve been dealing with it.

“That’s the only thing we can do. We can only get on with it and do what we’ve got to do with the numbers that we’ve got.

“In training this week we’ve gone back to basics. We’ve worked more on the stuff we did in pre-season – hopefully that will show on the pitch.

“We’ve had a lot of injuries recently and the boys are working back towards getting themselves back on the training field.

“The break came at a perfect time. Now it’s about us going out there in the next couple of games, picking up points and climbing the table again.”

Bolton is the first of three games in eight days for Preston as they are thrust back into league action after a near 
two-week break.

Trips to Bristol City, next Tuesday, and Norwich, a week on Saturday, follow the Deepdale date with Phil Parkinson’s Wanderers.

A hat-trick of good results and positive performances, and soon things will be looking up again.

A week is a long time in football, as the old cliché goes, with PNE still only five points off the play-off places despite their rotten recent run.

“That’s how quick the turnaround can be and what this division’s all about,” Johnson said.

“One win or two wins could climb you right back up the table. That’s what you want to do and hopefully that starts on Friday night.”

The game has been brought forward to allow the Sky TV cameras to come to town for the Lancashire derby.

Johnson, like most players, will be keen to shine in front of a wider viewing public but knows he and his team-mates have to focus on the job in hand.

“You always want to play in the big games and play on television and show off your ability,” said the 25-year-old.

“That’s definitely something that the team’s looking forward to.

“But we’ve got to concentrate on what we’re doing and treat it like any other game, go out there and give our all and try and get the win.

“You have a look at the opposition and see where their strengths and weaknesses are and see where we can hurt them and where we need to be aware of them.

“Ultimately we’ve got to concentrate on ourselves though.”