Injuries force Alex Neil’s hand in team selection

Alan Browne
Alan Browne

Selecting Preston’s defence of late has been something of a pick-and-mix task for Alex Neil.

The PNE boss has fielded 10 different combinations at the back this season, the majority of those having only come into play in recent games.

It was in the second half at Aston Villa that North End were at their most stretched at the back.

Alan Browne was forced to drop back from an attacking No.10 role into the centre of defence, joining Andy Boyle, Darnell Fisher and Kevin O’Connor on shut-out duty.

Neil will be hoping that the numbers available to him at the back, start to grow in the games after the international break.

“The last few games have been difficult,” said Neil.

“I wouldn’t say it is difficult to explain, but is more difficult to accept than anything else.

“When we lost Darnell Fisher at Ipswich, that was the 10th back four this season that we’ve had to put together.

“Every player in the back four almost has either been injured or suspended at some stage, it is very rare.

“Ipswich was one of Marnick Vermijl’s first games of the season, it was Kevin O’Connor’s second game and Andy Boyle’s second game because they weren’t in the team at the start of the season.”

While the pile of injuries at the back has been the main contributory factor to North End’s slide in form, Neil isn’t pointing the finger exclusively in that direction.

“Equally, people who were in the team at the start of the season aren’t hitting the heights they were then, I have got to look at that,” said Neil.

“I have probably stuck with players through the majority of games so far but equally we have not performed well enough in the last four games.”

As far as the back four goes, Neil started the season with Paul Huntington and Tommy Spurr flanked by Fisher and Greg Cunningham. A back three was used at Derby, then Ben Davies nudged Spurr aside as Huntington’s regular partner.

Josh Earl stepped-in for Cunningham and had a long run of games until his injury.

Woods has stepped in for a couple of games at right-back in place of Fisher and recently was utilised at centre-half.

Huntington missed the one game through suspension.