Man City loanee Lukas Nmecha hails Preston North End boss Alex Neil’s ‘tough love’ approach

Lukas Nmecha in training with Germany Under-21s (photo: Getty Images)
Lukas Nmecha in training with Germany Under-21s (photo: Getty Images)

A bit of tough love has set Lukas Nmecha on the right path to a decent first full campaign in senior football.

The 20-year-old forward arrived at Preston North End in August on a season-long loan from Manchester City.

A star of the academy at the Etihad Stadium, his capture by PNE boss Alex Neil was viewed as a major coup for the club.

With 39 appearances to his name, Nmecha has certainly had plenty of game-time, whether that is from the bench or via the starting XI.

And in terms of performance, the striker believes he has got better as the season has gone on – becoming more accustomed to the demands required from him at this level.

Nmecha – who made two Premier League appearances for City from the bench last year – also believes he has benefited from the way his manager has handled him, even if that has meant a few home truths being handed out to him.

The youngster admitted Neil was slightly intimidating at first, but he fully understands that it is all part of his footballing education.

“He was a little bit intimidating,” said Nmecha. “But that is what I came here for.

“I am not a guy who goes into a little ball when getting criticism – I can take it.

“Before I came here, the manager told me what he was going to be like.

“You can’t get offended in this game. You have got to take it on the chin and try to improve.

“I have got a thicker skin since I’ve been here and all the mental side of things, I think I have improved things.

“When I was at City, I never really had a coach who shouted at me as much as him. He points out every little thing that you do wrong but as the games have come and I have done better and better, that’s getting less and less.

“The less I hear him shouting at me, the better I am doing.”

Neil beat off a host of other clubs for Nmecha on the eve of North End’s second game of the season.

He went immediately into the first XI for the trip to Swansea City which ended in a 1-0 defeat at the Liberty Stadium.

His progress in those early season games was probably not helped by the fact that PNE endured a very difficult period.

Seven defeats from their first 10 games resulted in them propping up the Championship table.

A 3-3 draw at Aston 
Villa at the beginning of October appeared to kick start the season.

Nmecha has pinpointed that game has the one where he started to feel more at ease at this level.

He later scored his first goal at senior level at home to Villa in the final game of 2018.

And over the first three months of the following year, Nmecha helped North End go on a fine 12-game unbeaten run which took them to the cusp of the play-offs.

“I think this season, I have had ups and downs,” said Nmecha, who is set to feature in this weekend’s trip to fourth-placed West Bromwich Albion.

“I think looking back, both Villa games I felt really comfortably in.

“I don’t know why. They are a good side and I just felt really good in those games.

“Pretty much the second half of the season, I have grown into it a little bit more.

“At the moment I am doing all right, but I still think I can do more.”

After beating Birmingham 1-0 away last month, North End moved level on points with sixth-placed Bristol City in the Championship table.

Unfortunately, defeats in the past three games to Reading, Sheffield United and Leeds United have seen North End slip 
down to 12th but Nmecha is not writing off his team’s play-off hopes just 
yet.

“It’s still tight,” said the Germany-born forward. “We have West Brom next and if we get the win there, which we are hoping to, then we have a few games which are not necessarily against the top teams – but of course there are no easy games in the Championship.

“To be honest, when we were bottom of the league we still had that belief that we could make the play-offs.

“I think the first few games of the season, we lost because we didn’t have enough experience and we made sloppy mistakes.

“You have those periods in the season where nothing appears to go your way

“We would concede a goal two minutes after scoring.

“But the second half of the season we have been scoring and the defence has been tight .

“But of course when you come up against these really big teams in the Championship , they have always got a chance of scoring.

“They have got so many good players and that’s what has happened these last two games.”