Alex Neil explains his approach to Preston North End’s fixture list

North End manager Alex Neil
North End manager Alex Neil

Preston North End manager Alex Neil is enjoying meeting the challenge of the ‘block’ pattern of the Championship fixture list.

Three international breaks in the autumn carve the first 16 league games into groups.

But from late November through to the end of March there is an unbroken run of matches when the league will really sort itself out.

Neil said: “The way the Championship season is scheduled at the moment I think is good for the players.

“It puts games into blocks and you plan for it that way.

“You have five or six games at a time and you have a short-term goal in that you want as many points from that block.

“When you reach the last game of the block you know how important it is because there is a break coming up.

“Look at how well we ended the most recent block – we beat Barnsley 5-1.

“Once each block is over, you reflect on it and then try to start again.

“We are about to start the third block and the aim is for us to accumulate as many points as we can.

“I don’t set a points tally as such. If you were to say we wanted 12 points from six games and then lost the first two, it will create a negative mindset.

“That is our way of doing things while the fixture list is the way it is.”

PNE face Reading today and will be backed by around 1,000 of their supporters at the Madejski Stadium.

Neil’s selection is unlikely to offer too many surprises.

With back-to-back home games against Leeds United and Blackburn coming up, it is a big week.

In a bid to keep all of his squad sharp in case they are called upon over the coming weeks, Neil arranged a behind-closed-doors match against Accrington Stanley during the international break.

Neil thinks that along with sharp training sessions, such bounce games are a big help for those not currently in the starting XI.

“How much you get out of the games does depend to an extent on the opposition and the level they are at,” said Neil.

“Our lads will attack a game in the manner I expect them to do, they go out to win it.

“Sometimes in these games they aren’t stretched too much, while others are very competitive.

“At the moment we have got a lot of players available who are pushing for a place and you need to keep sharp.

“Keeping everyone happy is the holy grail for a manager.

“Out of a squad of 23 or 24 players you can only pick 11 starters. You’ll then have four or five of the guys thinking they should be in the team.

“On the bench you there are seven guys and a few more thinking they should be.”