Neil seeks swift response to defeat as he targets top six

Preston North End's Sean Maguire
Preston North End's Sean Maguire

Alex Neil has told his Preston players to use their defeat to Fulham as ‘fuel’ to make a run for the play-offs over the final nine games.

He was full of praise for PNE’s performance despite the agonising 2-1 reverse at Deepdale – the Cottagers snatching their winner in the 91st minute.

Aleksandar Mitrovic got both Fulham goals, Sean Maguire hitting North End’s equaliser in between with his fourth goal in a week.

Lilywhites boss Neil said: “I told the lads afterwards that one of two things can happen.

“You can feel sorry for yourselves and go and crawl into a wee hole, or we can use this as fuel for the rest of the season.

“Based on how well we played– if Fulham are the best team in the division – we can beat anyone on our day.

“A lot of teams sit behind the ball against Fulham but we are not scared of any team, we will go toe-to-toe with them.

“On this occasion we found ourselves on the wrong side of the result.”

The loss to Fulham, which was only PNE’s third league defeat in 21 games, left them four points shy of the top six.

They head to Sunderland this weekend and then there is a 13-day international break.

Neil said: “Things have changed and it is going to be more difficult.

“Had we won this game it would have given us more of a chance of being among it.

“We are four points off with nine games left – there are lots of points to play for.

“The only thing you can ever tell the players is to give everything they have got.

“I thought every player gave everything they had, I couldn’t have asked any more of them.

“We will take this one on the chin and aim to get three points in the next game.”

Neil gave Maguire a first start since returning from hamstring surgery, the Irish front man having scored three goals from the bench against Bolton and Bristol City.

He headed Preston level in the 76th minute – meeting a cross from Ben Pearson – and lasted until the 83rd minute.

“Sean had no right to play 80 minutes, he had done two 30 minutes having been out for four months,” said Neil.

“To be honest, I didn’t want to take him off because he was so good but he was tiring.

“The problem you have got when you make a change is that when you have impetus, making a change sometimes takes that impetus away.

“Hence I was reluctant to change it but I felt towards the end we needed freshness.

“Josh Harrop came on and had a couple of opportunities three versus two.

“With the quality we have got at the top end of the pitch we really should be doing a bit better. Lose the ball to Fulham and the ball ends up at the other end in three passes.”