Preston North End midfielder Ali McCann is relishing the challenge of the Championship

Preston North End midfielder Ali McCann is enjoying meeting the challenge of playing against the varying styles and formations in the Championship.

By Dave Seddon
Friday, 4th February 2022, 7:00 am

No game is quite the same, teams might have the same system but operate within it in a different way.

Bristol City and Millwall were the last two opponents for North End and both lined-up 3-4-3.

But they were like chalk and cheese in approach, and it’s that kind of test which keeps everyone on their toes.

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Preston North End midfielder Ali McCann in action against Millwall at The Den

It’s a game every few days for PNE at the moment, the latest of which comes against Hull City at the MKM Stadium on Saturday (3pm).

McCann said: “There are so many styles in this league and that is one of the things which makes it so competitive.

“We fancy ourselves against anyone on our day, whatever style we come up against we try and focus on our own game.

“The manager talks about 80% us and 20% the other team and that is how we prepare.

Ali McCann leads Preston North End's goal celebrations against Bristol City

“It’s about what we are going to do first and foremost. If we nail down what our game plan is, the majority of time we will come away with a positive performance.

“We do have to look at the other team in respect of where their threats are and areas of weakness which we could exploit.

“At the moment it is a busy schedule but we have a big squad to cover it.

“All the lads want to play matches, it’s what you do as a footballer.

“Training is a big thing but it is the matches which is the main part.

“With matches every few days, you just have to focus on recovering the best you can in between and get yourself ready for the next game.”

McCann, 22, has had to show his patient side in recent weeks.

After starting Ryan Lowe’s first game in charge against Barnsley on December 11 as a right wing-back, his next Championship start didn’t come until Tuesday night at Millwall.

He did start in the FA Cup at Cardiff City but otherwise it was bench duty in between.

A game changer for McCann came against Bristol City last Saturday when he was introduced as a half-time substitute.

He was part of a much better second-half show which helped North End earn a 2-2 draw.

His display saw him get the nod at Millwall, a 0-0 draw which is probably already forgotten by most who watched it.

McCann doesn’t have any qualms about having to be patient of late.

“The midfielders who were playing had been doing brilliantly,” said McCann who joined PNE from St Johnstone in a £1.2m switch last August.

“If you look at the quality we have got in midfield, whoever misses out is going to be a good player.

“It’s good competition, it’s healthy, and hopefully it can carry us where we want to go to.

“With our squad, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be up there around it.

“If we can pick up a few good results together, gradually we could reduce the gap between ourselves the clubs higher up.”

Something which did McCann’s chances of a start no harm, was the role he played in North End’s late equaliser against Bristol City.

When they were caught on the break by the Robins, McCann tracked back to tackle Cameron Pring on the edge of the PNE box.

From there, North End moved up on the pitch and Emil Riis volleyed home a cross from Brad Potts.

Said McCann: “When they broke on us I just thought that I needed to sprint back and catch the lad making the run.

“Luckily he took a bit of a heavy touch and I managed to nick the ball off him. We broke down the other end where Pottsy stood up a great ball for Emil to volley in.

“It was a great finish from him, great technique.

“I don’t think I’ve had to sprint that far in a game as I did last week.

“It was worth it when you help a team-mate score such a good goal.”

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