Important batch of games ahead for Preston North End as they aim to maintain their strong form

The first four months of the season have to be planned in stages by managers because of the nature of the Championship fixture list.

Sunday, 13th October 2019, 2:43 pm
Preston manager Alex Neil

Three international breaks punctuate the flow of games and the approach from Preston North End boss Alex Neil is to work in batches of games, plan for the run ahead and take stock when the next break comes along.

Neil will have been quite satisfied with the last batch of games, with three wins and two draws on the board in the league.

Third place after 11 games and the division’s top scorers is decent going and Neil’s task now is to carry that forward into the remaining October fixtures and into the first two games of November.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Preston midfielder Daniel Johnson scores against Barnsley

It starts again at Reading on Saturday, with two home games in five days to follow against Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers.

Then it’s off to London for the Sunday lunchtime clash with Charlton, before a home contest with Huddersfield rounds off this batch.

Here are some of the tasks for Alex Neil over the coming weeks.

1. The obvious aim is to keep the momentum going and avoid a repeat of the visit to Reading last season.

Preston's one away league victory came at Birmingham in September

In March, PNE went to the Madejski Stadium after the March international break.

They were unbeaten in 12 games and had won six times on the bounce away.

North End were beaten 2-1 which was the start of the slide in form at the tail end of last season.

A good result this time would set up Neil’s men for the Deepdale double header with Leeds and Rovers.

If there is something which needs to pick up, it is the away form. They are catching up in that respect quite well, when you bear in mind they lost the first two away games at Millwall and Swansea in the league.

A draw at Nottingham Forest was followed last month by the 1-0 win over Birmingham. Last time out on the road, they drew 1-1 at Middlesbrough.

2. Neil will want to keep the depth of squad in place in order to make the necessary tweaks to the side from game to game which he favours.

He should have Andrew Hughes fit again which will provide him with a very interesting selection dilemma at left-back.

Joe Rafferty has filled the role well but missed out to Hughes for the one game the Welshman was available for last month – Birmingham at St Andrew’s.

Neil wanted the height Hughes offers in that game and it worked. But that won’t always be his thinking and it will be interesting to see how that pans out.

Billy Bodin is back now too, having been on the bench against Barnsley.

Bodin’s clever play will give another option on the right-hand side of the attack.

3. Will the next group of games be a chance for some on the fringes of the squad to force their way in?

We’ve yet to see a lot of big-money buy Tom Bayliss, while loanee Andre Green hasn’t made the matchday squad for a while.

Jayden Stockley didn't get much of a look in over the past month but did get a run-out as a substitute against Barnsley last time out.

Where would they fit in at the moment, though? All play in areas where Neil has plenty of options and have been strong this season. More patience might be needed on their part.