Boss Alex Neil on the Championship challenges facing Preston North End next season
Preston boss Alex Neil thinks it will be even harder for his men to push for promotion to the Premier League next season.
The North End manager has been in charge of the club for almost two years – replacing previous incumbent Simon Grayson in July 2017.
In that time he has presided over two full seasons in the Championship, which on the whole have been pretty successful.
In his first campaign, PNE flirted with the play-offs throughout – eventually finishing just one place and two points outside the top six.
Last season after a poor beginning which saw them rooted to the bottom, North End turned their campaign around to once again put themselves in with a shout of promotion.
With just eight games of the season to go, Neil’s men drew level on points with Aston Villa, who occupied the final play-off place at the time and, of course, later went on to win promotion.
Unfortunately, PNE were unable to maintain their form over the final month or so of the season and they eventually had to settle for a 14th-place finish.
Despite the ultimate disappointment of missing out on a top-six finish,supporters have been buoyed by their club’s competitiveness.
They believe that a couple of quality new additions could tip things favourably in their direction, but as Neil knows the Championship is an unforgiving place.
He has pointed to the increasing finance needed to succeed in this division, although money is not always the deciding factor.
“I think this league is getting stronger,” said Neil
“Cardiff, Fulham and Huddersfield are coming down from the Premier League – they will all fancy giving it a go again.
“But I think the strength of the league is shown by how hard some of the relegated clubs have found it.
“For Stoke to have finished where they did this season with the squad they have, was a surprise, for Swansea to finish where they did – West Bromwich Albion didn’t get up either.
“The Championship is a tough division, it really is.”
Neil also believes the standard of managers working within the Championship is a good marker of how tough the division is.
“If you look at the calibre of manager, that is certainly improving, no question,” he said. “Tony Pulis hadn’t worked outside of the Premier League for a long time until he went to Middlesbrough – now he’s left there.
“Marcelo Bielsa is regarded as one of the best coaches in the world and is plying his trade in the Championship with Leeds.”