PNE boss Neil’s sympathy for Wearsiders goes by wayside

Billy Jones in action against Hull City (photo: Frank Reid)
Billy Jones in action against Hull City (photo: Frank Reid)

Five months on from their last meeting, Preston will face a Sunderland side carrying the same problems they had at the end of September.

There has been a change of manager for the Black Cats since they drew at Deepdale, Chris Coleman given the job after Simon Grayson’s reign lasted only four months.

Fortunes have not got any better on Wearside and there is every chance they will be playing League One football next season.

Sunderland were second bottom when they last faced North End – Coleman’s men go into Saturday’s clash propping up the division.

Looking from the outside, PNE boss Alex Neil admits to being ‘baffled’ by the struggles of their next opponents.

But with Neil’s focus fixed on attempting to steer a path into the top six, any sympathy will go by the wayside at the weekend.

Neil said: “Sometimes you need to turn over the players, you need to strip it back and start again.

“Sometimes when you go in as a manager, problems can continue and can’t be resolved for six months or even a year.

“It can be that you need to get guys out of the door to start afresh and start building.

“The problem any manager going into Sunderland has had is the fact many players are the same.

“I would think Chris will have a good idea of what he thinks he needs and what he would like to try and achieve.

“They have to get results between now and the end of the season to stay in this league.

“If Sunderland manage to do that, Chris can go and build for next season.

“But getting there at the end of the season looks like being a tough one – they will have to dig in.”

The Sunderland squad has in it three players with PNE connections.

Billy Jones, Aiden McGeady and Tyias Browning all wore the Preston shirt previously.

Right-back Jones served the Lilywhites for four years and was a popular figure at Deepdale.

McGeady and Browning were on loan from Everton last season, McGeady winning the player of the year award.

Both headed north in the summer although Browning’s season is already over because of a groin injury.

It was McGeady who scored Sunderland’s equaliser at PNE in the reverse fixture.

McGeady has netted six times and is top scorer in the current squad – Lewis Grabban had 12 before he cut short his loan from Bournemotuth in January and subsequently joined Aston Villa.

Sunderland will be without goalkeeper Jason Steele for North End’s visit.

Former Blackburn man Steele got a red card in last week’s defeat at Queens Park Rangers for handling outside the box.

The much-travelled Lee Camp will take Steele’s place between the posts.

Sunderland have lost their last two games, having drawn against Middlesbrough and Millwall before that.

They are five points adrift of safety.