Moving along nicely: Alex Neil pleased with Preston’s progress

Preston North End manager Alex Neil
Preston North End manager Alex Neil

Alex Neil thinks Preston have evolved in all areas of the pitch this season, that helping them climb into the lofty position they occupy heading into the international break.

The Lilywhites’ 5-1 victory over Barnsley hoisted them up to third place in the table, just a point behind league leaders West Bromwich Albion.

Neil’s men were dominant against the Tykes, running in four goals in the second half .

Daniel Johnson was once again at the heart of things, scoring twice and setting up two of the other goals.

That is seven goals now for the 26-year-old plus a similar number of assists.

North End manager Neil said: “We tried to evolve our game last year but we lost two forward players before the start and were vulnerable at the back, so it didn’t happen.

“Adding Patrick Bauer has helped us, Paul Gallagher and David Nugent’s experience is helping.

“Keeping hold of the lads from last season and giving them another 12 months of experience has helped us.

“Bumping DJ up the pitch has benefited us. The three in midfield can knock the ball around as well as you will see in this league.

“We’ve got pace off the flanks to hurt teams, we have technicians in the middle and strikers who can drop in and link it or run away from the ball to stretch it.

“Our full-backs are more aggressive this season, our centre-backs are dominant.

“Across the board we have evolved our game in every third of the pitch.

“I think DJ is bearing the fruits of all that more than anyone else.

“DJ will be the first to give his team-mates credit, he doesn’t get those chances to score if they don’t move the ball as well as they have done and move it in good areas.

“He’s not like Eden Hazard beating three players and then putting it on a sixpence .

“DJ is making runs into dangerous areas, helped by quality play from others.”

It was Johnson who opened the scoring with a header, that a rarity for him.

Barnsley pulled level on the stroke of half-time, against the run of play.

Early in the second half Tom Barkhuizen restored the lead from a Johnson pass.

Johnson struck again to make it 3-1, Ben Pearson then scoring for the first time in three years.

Josh Harrop completed the scoring after coming on as a substitute.

Said Neil: “We arguably could have scored 10 goals.

“We missed four sitters in the first half, there was the chance for David Nugent in the second half.

“At the end Brad Potts flicked one over which would have been goal of the season had it gone in. We scored five and could have had more.”