There was a smile and then a chuckle from Alex Neil when the subject of the post-match press conference turned to him being ‘creative’ with his Preston line-ups of late.
This last fortnight has not been straight forward for the North End manager in terms of getting players on the pitch in their usual positions.
Neil’s line-ups have looked rather strange but despite a needs-must approach, PNE head into the international break in decent shape.
The point gathered against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground on Saturday was their 10th of the season – it took them until October 20 last year to hit double figures.
Preston sit in seventh place in the early-season table and have progressed to the third round of the Carabao Cup.
Decent enough going for a side where injuries have hit hard before the first month of the campaign is out.
“Creative is one way you could describe it,” said Neil on the teams he has fielded.
“For the last four games I have felt like Harry Houdini, pulling rabbits out of a hat left, right and centre.
“The lads here are good lads, they stick to their task and do what is asked of them.
“For long spells of the games we’ve had of late, they have done well.”
Against Forest, Neil played midfielder Alan Browne as an emergency right-back.
His only available natural right-back Joe Rafferty was needed for a fourth league game running at left-back.
That was just the half of it, the ace up Neil’s sleeve being Billy Bodin’s use as a striker.
Bodin had played up front before earlier in his career but in recent seasons – and during his time at Preston – was very much regarded as a winger.
He found the net to give his side the lead before half-time, a fitting reward for a dominant first-half performance.
Had North End managed to hold out a bit longer later in the game, Bodin would have been their match winner.
As it was, Forest grabbed a late equaliser and it was a just a point which Neil’s side brought back along the A50 and up the M6.
A point many would not have sniffed at before the game, however when your team leads until the 80th minute anything less than a win is going to be met with a sense of frustration.
Neil asking some of his players to operate out of position has become the norm of late.
Rafferty playing on the left started at Swansea and saw him score inside 11 minutes. Against Stoke, there was a start for Tom Barkhuizen as a striker.
Jayden Stockley tried his hand as a centre-half in the latter stages of the victory against Sheffield Wednesday.
In the cup win over Hull, Josh Ginnelly became the third player this season to fill the left-back role.
The publication of the team sheet before the last four games has led to social media becoming a pit of doom and despair. However, results have turned out okay.
It does make you think though, how North End would be doing had Neil had a full hand of players to work with?
Three wins, a draw and two defeats in the league hasn’t been a bad start, in fact it is better than most fans would have predicted.
Throw in progress in the cup too, and there isn’t a great deal to grumble about.
PNE weren’t great on the opening day at Millwall, they weren’t terrible either.
In the other game they lost, Swansea away, they led 1-0 and were level at 2-2.
Hopefully the break has come at the right time so to allow injuries to clear up and give Neil a chance to put out a side full of round pegs in round holes.
Mind you, the side he put out at Forest did more than a decent job.
The first-half performance was excellent, their passing patient, so too the movement of the front line.
Bodin, Brad Potts, Josh Harrop and Daniel Johnson rotated well in and around the front line – Bodin more than once finding space in behind the Forest defence.
Had North End led by more than the one goal they did at half-time, no one could have begrudged them that.
They needed a bigger lead, with Forest better in the second half than they had been in the first.
The fact that Samba Sow, introduced as a substitute at half-time, took the hosts’ man of the match award, perhaps showed how the dynamics of the game changed.
Forest had more of the ball after the break, looked more purposeful but with that did not carry much of a goal threat.
But they did eventually fashion an equaliser with their first shot on target of the game.
A lesson there to be learned for North End in finishing a team off when the chances come along.
Bodin got the nod to start this one up front if preference to Stockley, with Neil thinking there were gaps to be found in the Forest defence.
That certainly was the case, Bodin finding sufficient room to operate in – Harrop a threat in the first half too coming in from the left side.
Bodin forced the first save of the afternoon from Brice Samba, his shot from the left of goal pushed up into the air by the Forest keeper.
Samba saved from Harrop and Johnson, before Bodin beat him finally in the 40th minute.
Rafferty’s pass released him down the left side of the box, Bodin’s first shot blocked by Samba with the ball going out of the box.
Browne returned it with a scuffed shot which deflected to Bodin, the front man this time working the ball on his left foot and drilling a low shot into the net from the corner of the six-yard box.
Had Harrop’s volley from a Paul Gallagher centre soon after gone in rather than gone past the post, it could have been game over.
As it was, Forest came much more into the game and drew level with 10 minutes of regulation time left.
Joao Carvalho slid a pass through the PNE defence to free fellow substitute Albert Adomah who shot past Declan Rudd.
There was a case that the former Aston Villa man was a fraction offside but the flag stayed down.