Exclusive Sean Gregan column: New contract for Alex Neil is just the tonic Preston North End need

Preston and West Bromwich players line up at a free-kick
Preston and West Bromwich players line up at a free-kick

Ahead of Preston North End’s three games on the bounce against sides in the top four, I commented that they would needed six or seven points from those to stay in the race for the play-offs.

They have come out with nothing and so the dream of the top six had gone.

A saying in football is that it is easy to get up to the line, the hard part is getting over it – that applies in some ways to PNE’s recent fortunes.

Looking at the defeat to West Bromwich Albion, they were caught out by three goals in quick succession at the end of the first half.

The first from Dwight Gayle was a superb finish but you do have to question how did the ball travel so far to reach him without it being cut out?

Quality players like Gayle are expensive and you get what you pay for.

I’m sure his weekly wage is more than several of the PNE team put together.

For Albion’s second goal, Josh Earl had done really well to win the ball close to the touchline. That was the hard part done and the ideal ball was up the line.

But the lad put it square instead and that caused the problem from which North End couldn’t clear their lines and the Baggies scored.

At 2-0 down away to a side in the play-offs, that left them with a mountain to climb.

If they had got one back then, it might have made things interesting but going 3-0 down made it mission impossible – not many teams come back from that.

It’s a shame that they have run out of steam.

They recovered from a bad start to the season to put two good blocks of results together.

The second of those runs took them so close to the top six but they’ve fallen away at the wrong moment. There was of course a lot of speculation surrounding Alex Neil before, during and after the game.

Neil has been linked with West Bromwich and that speculation seemed to get stronger in the build-up to this game, which I’m sure didn’t help anyone.

The news that he has since signed a new contract will hopefully calm things down and allow him to plan for next season.

Preston managers who 
do well are always going to get looked at by other clubs, such as we have seen with Neil.

Going back to my time as a player at North End, we had similar with David Moyes. Quite a few times Moyes’ name was linked with other clubs before he got the move to Everton.

What Neil will want now is to oversee a strong finish to the season.

These last four games are about getting a decent-placed finish in the table.

After the recent defeats, they must aim to go on a little unbeaten run and build for next season.

Neil signing a new deal might help keep hold of some of the top players and it can also help attract signings in the summer.

If there was uncertainty over his position, things might have worked against them.