Engine room boost for Preston North End boss Alex Neil

Preston are hopeful that midfielder Alan Browne will be fit to play against Sheffield United
Preston are hopeful that midfielder Alan Browne will be fit to play against Sheffield United

Alex Neil hopes to have his two ‘runners’ back in time for Preston’s big Roses clash with Sheffield United on Saturday.

The PNE manager has been without Alan Browne and Brad Potts of late because of injury.

But of all the players on the current casualty sheet, the midfield pair look to have the best chance of being fit to face the Blades. Neil said: “I’m hopeful, more so with Alan and Pottsy – they are the two lads pushing to get back.

“They both played big roles in our good run and have got a goal in them, which is crucial.”

Browne has been missing since limping off during the first half of North End’s 2-1 win at Middlesbrough three weeks ago.

Starting at right wing-back that night, he was on the end of a challenge from Boro’s Mo 
Besic and appeared to twist his ankle as he fell. January buy Potts missed the wins over Blackburn and Middlesbrough but returned to face Birmingham before the international break.

However, he got a knock on the knee against the Blues and was absent at Reading.

Potts started nine games on the bounce after signing from Barnsley, establishing himself in Neil’s plans straight away.

As for Browne, he has been a mainstay in the side since Neil took charge.

“We have generally played with two running No.10s,” said Neil.

“Pottsy and Browne are a similar type of player in that respect.

“You want players like them who can run and stretch a game but we’ve been without a few of them lately.

“At Reading we didn’t have most of our runners – Pottsy, Alan and Tom Barkhuizen were out and Brandon Barker had to come off.

“Without them we huffed and puffed and didn’t create a lot of chances.”

The weekend’s clash with Sheffield United is the first of three in a row for North End against top-four sides.

They host Leeds United on Tuesday night and then go to West Bromwich Albion a week on Saturday.

After the setback of defeat against Reading, it is vital to their play-off hopes that they get a healthy return out of this trio of matches.

Said Neil: “It is a big run of games and we won’t go into them with any fear.

“We have beaten Norwich, who are top of the league, and we will need to repeat the type of performance we did that night.

“We played close to our top level against Norwich and that is what it takes to beat the top teams at this level.

“Consistency of selection would be nice for these games and if we can get players back fit, it would be a massive help for us.”