Preston boss Alex Neil excited by first friendly at Bamber Bridge

PNE winger Tom Barkhuizen in action against Bamber Bridge last summer
PNE winger Tom Barkhuizen in action against Bamber Bridge last summer

Preston’s pre-season work will step up a level on Saturday lunchtime when they make the annual visit to Bamber Bridge.

The fixture has been part of the summer calendar since the late 1980s and for a third year the clubs will compete for the Gerry Lawson Memorial Trophy, in honour of the Brig stalwart who passed away in 2016.

PNE returned to training at the end of last week and the game will be a welcome change from the slog of the double training sessions.

Alex Neil will field different XIs in each half so to give as many of his squad game time.

This fixture was his first as North End boss last year, 
coming three days after being appointed.

Neil said: “The first couple of games will be fitness based.

“Until we come back from Ireland it will be more about getting minutes into the legs, making sure we don’t pick up injuries.

“We’ll be spreading out the minutes evenly so everyone gets game-time.”

Scotsman Neil raised no objections to the Brig match being given a 12.30pm kick-off to allow fans to get away to watch England’s World Cup quarter-final with Sweden.

The clash at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium is the first of six friendly games for PNE in the build-up to the season’s opener against Queens Park Rangers on August 4.

Neil acknowledges that the expectation levels among fans for the forthcoming campaign have been raised by last term’s seventh-place finish.

The hard yards being put in on the training ground will form a big part of trying to meet those expectations.

Said Neil: “Saying you are going to look to improve on last season is the easy thing – it is more difficult to do it.

“What we did last year will naturally raise the level of expectation.

“What myself, the players and the fans have to understand, is that it is going to take a hell of a lot of hard work to get us there.

“Are we capable? Yes, I think we are. It should be an exciting season.”

The friendly is the first of the summer for Brig, who are preparing for life in the NPL Premier Division following promotion in May.

They got up through the play-offs, beating Prescot 1-0 in the final.

Brig boss Neil Reynolds has retained the majority of the promotion-winning squad.

Adam Roscoe and Kieran Charnock, who were on loan from Chorley last term, have made the move to Brig on a permanent basis.