Keeping a clean sheet delighted Preston North End boss Alex Neil as much as result

Alex Neil was pleased with the clean sheet which accompanied Preston’s win over Bristol City.

Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 8:00 am

It was their fifth shut-out of the season but PNE still have the leakiest defence in the Championship after shipping 30 goals.

North End defended well against the Robins, with Paul Huntington winning double figures of aerial battles.

Declan Rudd made two fine saves from Callum O’Dowda as they held firm against strong second-half pressure.

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Paul Huntington in an aerial battle with Bristol Citys Chris Martin at Deepdale

Lilywhites manager Neil said: “We needed a clean sheet, before the game I had spoken about us needing to be more resilient defensively.

“We were against Bristol City and that pleased me.”

After playing with an improvised back three at Barnsley last week, Neil went with four at the back on Friday. That saw Huntington and Ben Davies paired together at centre-half, with Darnell Fisher and Josh Earl the two full-backs.

On Huntington’s display, Neil said: “That is what we expect from Paul, being aerially dominant.

“What we did really well for him was to keep Darnell Fisher in, we didn’t expose Hunts in terms of getting him out to get to the wide player.

“We used Tom Barkhuizen to do that in the first half, to get to their wing-back.

“I thought it was a good solid performance from all of the players and I thought there were a couple of key performances too.

“To win matches across the board you need seven, eight, nine players to be on their game. We had that.”

Victory was achieved without the services of Andrew Hughes.

The left-back had only returned from five weeks out with a torn hamstring for the 3-0 win over Middlesbrough on December 9, so to lose him again so soon was a blow.

Mind you, Josh Earl did well at left-back having come back into the side at Barnsley as a wing-back.

Neil did not divulge the nature of Hughes’ injury but hoped it would not keep him out for too long.

“He had something which kept him out,” said Neil.

“It is not down to him having played too many games because he’d only played three times since coming back.

“I’m hoping it is not going to be anything significant.

“We will see how he goes on this week.

“It was a blow because I thought Andrew had been our outstanding player at Barnsley.”

With Patrick Bauer out for the season, Ben Pearson sidelined by an ankle injury, midfield pair Brad Potts and Ryan Ledson missing the last two games, numbers are a bit thinner on the ground than Neil would like going into the Christmas programme.

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