Josh Harrop’s need to develop the defensive side of his game is why he is yet to nail down a regular run in the Preston team, according to Alex Neil.
Ten of his 16 appearances for PNE have come from the bench since his summer move from Manchester United.
He was a half-time sub in the 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, putting in a lively display in the No.10 role behind the striker.
North End boss Neil says Harrop’s attacking play has been very good but he still needs work on his defending.
Neil said: “I thought Josh did well when he came on at the weekend, he was exactly what we needed at that stage of the game.
“Hence the reason why I made the decision to change things round like I did.
“What Josh has done for us offensively has been very good. Defensively he has still got that side of his game to improve on.
“That is probably what has held him back in terms of more game time.”
Neil has been at pains to point out that Harrop is still at a relatively early stage in his football career.
Although he turns 22 later this month, he joined Preston having played only one game in United’s first team.
So Harrop is far from the finished article, with Neil keen to develop his play.
That work with Harrop and other young players has to be balanced with putting points on the board.
“My responsibility isn’t only to develop players as I’m trying to do with the lads we have got, but it also to win games,” said Neil.
“Our fans come here to see us pick up three points.
We are not just a factory for churning out young players, I have got both sides to balance out – Josh and the other lads understand that.”
Neil felt Harrop played a key role in helping North End break down a stubborn QPR side who were down to 10 men from the 22nd minute.
He replaced Alan Browne at half-time, with instructions to move wide if necessary.
“I told Josh that instead of staying as a central No.10, try and drift to the sides,” said Neil.
“QPR had narrowed the pitch to stop us playing through them.
“By drifting to the sides, it meant we had a wide player, a full-back and a No.10 down the wing against just a full-back and a wide player.
“It made it three versus two and if you looked at the left side in particular when he went out there, Josh got behind the full-back and put crosses in.
“From about an hour in, we started to move the ball a lot more quickly and that helped us put a lot more pressure on.”
Preston are next in action on Saturday when they make the trip to Burton Albion.