Planning for next season is the priority now for Preston North End boss

Preston striker Jayden Stockley
Preston striker Jayden Stockley

Although Preston’s clash with Ipswich tomorrow is ‘Retro Day’, Alex Neil’s focus will very much be forward looking.

The PNE manager’s team selection could well have a nod towards next season as he looks at some of the squad who have not had many first-team opportunities of late.

Four defeats on the bounce have effectively ended North End’s play-off hopes, the gap between themselves in 12th spot and sixth-placed Bristol City being eight points.

So the remainder of this season could double as the planning stage for next term.

Neil said: “We have to start thinking like bigger clubs do.

“What big clubs do when they haven’t reached their goals, like we haven’t got to the play-offs, they start to plan for next year.

“The immediate games are still important to us but the longer-term strategy is even more important.

“In the next four games it would be negligent if I didn’t look at some of the other lads for next season.

“Unless I see them playing in games, how will I know if they are going to be ready and good enough for next season?

“That may come at a cost and the proof will be in the pudding.

“Naturally you want to win these games to finish strongly. However, if you asked me now, ‘Finish this one strongly or be in the best position to get success next year?’ there is only going to be one winner for me.”

Ipswich’s visit to Deepdale is followed by the hop down the M6 to Wigan on Easter Monday – both 3pm starts.

PNE then host Sheffield Wednesday on April 27, before they go to Brentford on May 5.

Neil said: “If we win these four games that would be great and everyone will be saying we have done well but we won’t have anything to show for that.

“We’ve got to think how do we navigate ourselves towards that top six next season, how to do as well as we can?”

January buys Joe Rafferty and Josh Ginnelly could be two of the beneficiaries of how Neil selects his side.

Rafferty has featured off the bench just twice, while Ginnelly’s debut came in the closing minutes against West Bromwich Albion last week.

Jayden Stockley could be another to benefit.

After a run of games as a substitute, the big striker started against WBA but was subbed at half-time.

Tomorrow’s game has been chosen as ‘Retro Day’ which is a fan-led initiative.

Fans are encouraged to wear their old replica shirts as a nod to yesteryear.

Around the ground there will be bucket collections for the Gary Parkinson Trust.

Former PNE right-back Parkinson – who will be a guest at the game – has locked-in syndrome following a stroke and the Trust helps pay for the care he needs.