Darnell Fisher’s return to form is a welcome boost for Preston North End

Preston right-back Darnell Fisher applauds the PNE fans at Stoke
Preston right-back Darnell Fisher applauds the PNE fans at Stoke

Darnell Fisher’s performance in Preston North End’s win at Stoke was back on par with the form he showed last season, according to Alex Neil.

Right-back Fisher has struggled to find consistency in his game, and since the end of October has played second fiddle to Tom Clarke.

But skipper Clarke being absent with a calf strain has opened the door to Fisher in the last two games.

North End boss Neil felt both full-backs – Andrew Hughes and Fisher – had key roles in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over the Potters.

Neil said: “When you play against a diamond shape or a five in midfield, like we did at Stoke, the full-backs are your ‘out’ ball.

“So we were really reliant on them to step into the game and be aggressive.

“Our first goal came from Darnell doing that down the right-hand side.

“It was really pleasing for him to get back to the type of form we know he’s capable of.”

Fisher cutting into the box from the right wing was to lead to PNE going in front at the bet365 Stadium.

His shot was blocked but came out into the path of Alan Browne, who switched the ball superbly on to his left foot and found the bottom corner.

Last season, Fisher started 34 of Preston’s league games and he started this term as Neil’s first-choice right-back.

Clarke got the nod to start ahead of him for the home game against Rotherham on October 27.

And apart from a couple of games when a broken nose sidelined him, Clarke stayed in the team.

He pulled up with injury in the 1-1 draw against Swansea, allowing Fisher to regain his place.

Further competition for the right-back slot came last Wednesday with the signing of Joe Rafferty from Rochdale. Rafferty travelled with the squad to Stoke but was not in the matchday 18.

Clarke was not far away from full fitness for the Stoke game and could be back in contention for Friday night’s clash with Derby at Deepdale.

Neil’s selection options have increased of late, with the PNE boss in no doubt that has led to an upturn in results.

His side have taken seven points from the last nine on offer.

Said Neil: “Steadily we are getting players back and that gives us choices.

“Not too long ago when we drew 1-1 with Aston Villa, I put Preston’s youngest player in a league game on the pitch.

“That wasn’t done to make a point but because of what we had available.

“I was fine with that, it’s what we had available.

“Everyone will be aware now that when we have our best team on the pitch we are stronger and there is so much more to come.”