David Nugent’s first start for Preston North End this season earns plaudits from boss Alex Neil

Preston striker David Nugent during the 5-1 win over Barnsley
Preston striker David Nugent during the 5-1 win over Barnsley

Alex Neil has praised David Nugent for a ‘selfless’ display in Preston’s five-goal victory over Barnsley.

The striker was handed his first start by PNE boss Neil since returning to Deepdale in July after 12 years away.

While Nugent spurned a great chance to score his first North End goal since April 2007, his performance caught Neil’s eye.

Nugent had built up his match sharpness after a calf strain with three appearances as a substitute.

Against Barnsley he got the nod to start up front, with Tom Barkhuizen moving out to the wing to accommodate him.

Neil said: “I thought Nuge was excellent on Saturday.

“I liked the way he leaned in, kept the ball alive at the top end of the pitch.

“Some of his touches were very clever. I think he was a massive plus for us. What pleased me even more was that it was a very selfless performance.

“He put himself into areas where he probably knew he wasn’t going to get himself a goal.

“However, he knew his team-mates could exploit the space he had left.

“When you play in a front three like we have, sometimes you need to put yourself in a position not to score but to open up opportunities for others.

“Nuge did that very well and it’s good to have him back involved.”

You have to go back to April 14, 2007, for Nugent’s last goal in a Preston shirt.

That came in a 4-0 victory against Coventry at the Ricoh Arena.

His last goal at Deepdale came a month earlier when PNE beat Burnley 2-0.

It was 10 days after that he netted in England’s 3-0 win over Andorra in Barcelona.

Nugent left Preston in July 2007 to join Portsmouth in a £6m deal and went on to play for Burnley (loan), Leicester, Middlesbrough and Derby.

North End moved to bring him back to Deepdale in the summer.

He had been freed by Derby after reaching the end of his contract there and arrived on a Bosman.

At the time of his signing he was recovering after surgery on his knee to repair a damaged cartilage – an injury suffered in the play-off semi-finals in May.

Nugent was approaching full fitness when he strained a calf muscle in a bounce game against Salford in the second week of the season.

The 34-year-old made his comeback in the Lancashire Senior Cup victory at Chorley, then came off the bench against Manchester City, Bristol City and Middlesbrough.

North End sit in third place going into the international break, with them resuming action a week on Saturday at Reading.