Plenty for Preston North End boss Alex Neil to ponder as he picks his team for the season's restart at Luton

In the build-up to Preston North End’s scheduled visit to Luton Town in March, Alex Neil will have had a side in mind to go to Kenilworth Road and get back on a winning track.

Tuesday, 9th June 2020, 4:45 pm

Three months later Neil is having to plot and plan again for the same scenario, this time against the background of the Championship emerging from its Covid-19 enforced lockdown.

It was only the day before PNE were due to face Luton that the season was paused.

Initially a three-week pause, by the time North End arrive in Bedfordshire 99 days will have gone by.

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Preston midfielder Ben Pearson and PNE manager Alex Neil

The question is how much will Neil’s thinking over team selection have changed in that period of time?

Will the starting XI Neil was planning in March be different to what lines up at an empty Kenilworth Road a week on Saturday?

For starters, Neil is in the hands of Covid-19 tests, health and fitness. In terms of players who were not available in March but will be this time, Ben Pearson and Tom Bayliss are back fit.

Pearson had picked up a hamstring injury late in February at West Bromwich Albion and was a week or so away from a return when the season stopped.

North End manager Alex Neil

Pearson is a shoo-in, while Bayliss is likely to have to accept more of a squad role.

The time will come when we have to see more of Bayliss, and the midfielder be allowed to showcase his potential.

Nine games in a month – eight of those shoe-horned into 26 days – is a busy schedule and will require an element of squad rotation.

In PNE’s last game against QPR on March 7, Neil had Declan Rudd behind a back four of Darnell Fisher, Patrick Bauer, Ben Davies and Andrew Hughes.

Scott Sinclair and Ryan Ledson get ready to come on as substitutes in PNE's last game against QPR in March

The duo in midfield were Alan Browne and Paul Gallagher, with Daniel Johnson in the No.10 role.

Tom Barkhuizen and Josh Harrop played wide, with Sean Maguire up front.

Pearson being back in the holding role would likely to see Browne and Johnson get more attacking roles.

The forward line needs some attention bearing in mind the goals had dried up.

Could Scott Sinclair come back in on the left wing, put his pace up against potentially rusty defenders?

Striker options are limited to David Nugent, Maguire and Jayden Stockley, although Barkhuizen tends to do well when played up front.

There are some important decisions for Neil.

It is difficult to say that it is a clean slate for players in terms of selection while the season is ongoing - Neil will have his tactical preferences - but potentially there is a chance for everyone over the coming weeks with the games coming at a break-neck pace in order to conclude the campaign.