Pre-season form gives Preston North End boss Alex Neil food for thought

Billy Bodin celebrates scoring PNE's equaliser against West Ham at Deepdale
Billy Bodin celebrates scoring PNE's equaliser against West Ham at Deepdale

Alex Neil says he faces a tough job in selecting the side for Preston’s opening game of the Championship season against QPR next month.

The PNE manager has been really encouraged by what he has seen in pre-season, both in training and the friendlies.

Neil’s men more than matched a strong West Ham side on Saturday, goals from Tom Clarke and Billy Bodin helping earn a 2-2 draw.

There is another Premier League test this evening when Burnley visit Deepdale for the penultimate friendly of the summer (7.45pm).

Six players came through 90 minutes on Saturday and Neil will look for others to do likewise tonight – those who were on the bench for the West Ham game will start against the Clarets.

“I’m still working on the team to start the first game,” said Neil.

“We had an XI for the West Ham game on Saturday and it will be a different one against Burnley.

“Then we will take a view of things going into the game at Oldham at the weekend.

“It is a shame that we won’t have Billy Bodin for the first one because he is suspended.

“The goal he scored against West Ham was as good as it gets in terms of technique, bringing the ball down over his shoulder, shifting his feet twice and putting it away.

“Last season I would say that two-thirds of the lads had a good understanding of what we want them doing.

“I would go as far as saying that we are 90 to 95% there now when it comes to the players understanding their roles and responsibilities.

“What I can say it is that we aren’t an enjoyable side for teams to play against – we will give everyone a game.”

Neil had two injuries to deal with from the West Ham game, Ben Pearson and Tom Barkhuizen coming off hurt.

Pearson took a bang in the ribs from Robert Snodgrass early on and had to be subbed after 20 minutes.

Then in the second half, Barkhuizen hobbled off after getting sandwiched between two Hammers players.

Neil hopes that Pearson is fit to play a part tonight but Barkhuizen will not be involved.

“Ben got winded by the bang in the ribs,” said Neil.

“He was struggling to breath fully and when you’re racing around, you need to be able to take oxygen on board.

“We are hoping Ben will be okay to face Burnley.

“Ryan Ledson came on in his place and slotted in really well to that role. With Ryan having played 70 minutes on Saturday, we can’t have him doing that again two days later.

“Tom’s was a nasty knock, I think it was Arnautovic and someone else came in at the same time and Tom was in the middle of it.”