Alex Neil on Ben Davies’ importance to Preston North End’s balance
Alex Neil was pleased to have Ben Davies back in Preston’s defence after a spell out with hamstring trouble.
The centre-half returned to the side for the 4-1 victory at Queens Park Rangers, his first game since Boxing Day.
North End manager Neil had always regarded Davies as one of the key players to get back into the team after injury.
He was paired with Jordan Storey at Loftus Road, their partnership giving Preston a right-foot/left-foot balance at the heart of the back four.
Neil said: “You could see the balance was better and it meant we could play out from the back a lot more.
“When you get players like Ben Davies back, you see how much you miss them.
“I thought he dealt well with Matt Smith when QPR put him on. QPR were banging it back to front when Smith came on for the second half and at first Ben tried to compete with him in the air.
“Smith is a tall lad and won a couple of headers but then Ben saw what it was about.
“He dropped off, let Smith flick the ball on to no one and was there to take it on his chest and play out.”
In Davies’ absence, Neil had brought Storey into the team and paired him next to Paul Huntington.
At half-time of the game against Swansea a week last Saturday, Neil substituted Huntington at the interval and put left-back Andrew Hughes into the middle.
That gave some right-and-left balance, with him then able to pick Storey and Davies last weekend.
It was only the fourth time this season they had started a game together and just the third as a pair.
Storey and Davies started the 2-0 League Cup victory at Leeds in a back four.
Against West Bromwich Albion in the league at the end of September, they were part of a three-man defence with Huntington.
At Hull City in October they played as a pair, with them back together against QPR.
With Davies, 23, and Storey 21, it is a pairing with time on its side and plenty of promise.
Storey got his first Preston goal at QPR, meeting a Davies flick-on to volley into the top corner of the net.
He had scored a couple of goals last season for Exeter, so is useful in the opposition box.
Jayden Stockley and Brad Potts got their first PNE goals in the same game.
“It was a great connection from Jordan,” said Neil.
“That is what you ask of them, put a good connection through the ball and keep it on target.
“We signed a lot of young lads in the summer, Jordan was one of them and he has really stepped up.
“He is going to be a really good player for us.”