Alex Neil talks up importance of Preston North End’s clash with Bristol City in Championship play-off race

Preston manager Alex Neil will be hoping to see his side extend their unbeaten run against Bristol City
Preston manager Alex Neil will be hoping to see his side extend their unbeaten run against Bristol City

Preston will be looking to haul Bristol City closer into view when they meet at Deepdale tomorrow.

The Lilywhites go into the clash six points behind their visitors who currently occupy the final play-off place.

Should Alex Neil’s men get the better of City and close the gap to three points, it would really fuel their late run for the top six.

Neil travelled to Ashton Gate to see the Robins’ home defeat to Birmingham City in midweek.

Naturally the PNE boss came away pleased that they had not extended their lead over his side.

“If Bristol City had won, that would have stretched the gap to nine points and they have a game in hand,” said Neil.

“The fact they didn’t win helped us out and helped the other teams out around us who are playing for the same thing.

“I went to watch the game and it was a good one to be fair.

“Now we play them and it will be a tough one – it always is. Every time we have played Bristol City in my time here, it’s been very tight.

“We have done well against them but the games have been close.

“If this time we can close the gap to three points it would give us a boost going into the remaining games.

“But if it went the other way and it got stretched to nine points, it would make things much more difficult.”

An eight-game unbeaten run has carried North End up to 10th place.

They would need to show promotion form over the last dozen games to break into the top six but the fact Neil’s men are even in this position after such a poor start to the season merits praise.

Neil said: “We are on a good run and have played well in most of those games.

“When we have been fresh and the players on the pitch performed, we have done very well.

“We are comfortable and happy with where we are the moment.”

Neil’s main selection issue tomorrow is how to replace Ben Pearson.

The midfielder starts a two-game ban for collecting 10 yellow cards. Ryan Ledson is a natural fit in the holding role but Daniel Johnson is 
another option if the shape of the midfield gets a slight tweak.

Said Neil: “Being without Ben is disappointing but we need to make sure we get on with it.

“We have other lads here who are more than capable of doing a job.

“I think back to when we lost Callum Robinson because of his injury.

“We were all concerned and worried – I certainly was – because Callum was our top scorer at the time.

“To be fair, the rest of the lads rallied and his loss has not been quite as damaging as it might have been.

“Saying that, it will be a huge boost when Callum comes back.

“We have to try and make sure Ben’s absence doesn’t harm us.”

Neil will assess the fitness of Darnell Fisher today after the right-back missed last week’s win at Millwall with a hip flexor injury.

Tom Clarke replaced him in South London and scored the second goal.

Fisher was in strong form ahead of the injury and Neil has a choice to make.