PNE boss Neil aims to leapfrog Rams in lunchtime collision

Preston boss Alex Neil thinks there will be plenty of twists and turns to come in the chase for a play-off place.

The Lilywhites host Derby at Deepdale today (12.45pm) in a clash of major significance for the top six.

Daniel Johnson is in contention for a starting berth against Derby

Daniel Johnson is in contention for a starting berth against Derby

While Friday’s 4-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday saw them slip to 10th place, PNE stayed two points behind the play-off pace.

Were they to beat the Rams at lunchtime, Neil’s men would move up to fifth, if only for a couple of hours.

Neil said: “We are only two points off fifth and sixth.

“If fifth place was to elude us we would still be chasing sixth.

“Our whole focus is to be in the play-offs, whether that be fifth or sixth – it doesn’t really make a difference.

“Between now and the end of the season there is going to be a lot of changing at the top end of the table.

“We have to make sure we find ourselves on the right side of that change.”

Neil was keen not to dwell on the Hillsborough defeat too much.

While disappointed with some aspects of North End’s play, he felt the 4-1 scoreline gave a somewhat skewed view of proceedings.

Said Neil: “Our form of late has been very good, we have been playing really well.

“I don’t think we played poorly by any means against Sheffield Wednesday.

“Our use of the ball and how we moved it was very good but when we got vital chances we didn’t take them.

“The defensive mistakes we made also cost us.

“We should look at what happened and think, ‘If we do that again, we are not going to achieve what we want’.

“In the games coming up we need to do better.

“We knew the Derby game, regardless of what happened on Friday – whether positive or negative – was going to carry significant weight.”

Neil could be tempted to freshen up the starting XI to take into account the quick turnaround between the two Easter games.

Daniel Johnson and Louis Moult both made an impact as substitutes on Friday, with DJ setting up Moult for his first Preston goal.

The bench Neil selected at Hillsborough was as strong as it has been all season, giving him plenty of food for 
thought.

“In terms of selection, it is really tough at the moment,” said Neil.

“There is little between some of the guys who have been starting and some of the guys on the bench.

“On the bench we had our captain Tom Clarke, the vice-captain Greg Cunningham.

“DJ was excellent when we played Fulham the other week and he contributed well from the bench on Friday.”