Preston boss Alex Neil relishing visit to big hitters Aston Villa

Greg Cunningham will return to the PNE squad at Aston Villa after suspension
Greg Cunningham will return to the PNE squad at Aston Villa after suspension

Alex Neil is looking forward to seeing Preston North End test themselves against another of the Championship’s big guns when they tackle Aston Villa tonight.

Having drawn with leaders Wolves on Saturday, PNE head to Villa Park (7.45pm) to face Steve Bruce’s men, who are in third place.

Reputations count for little with North End manager Neil and he wants to see his side go toe to toe with Villa.

Neil said: “Sometimes the bigger the club is deemed to be, the better challenge it is for us, the more we look forward to going there and showing people what we can do.

“The sweeter it is if we can get a result too.

“This game is part of a big spell for us, Brentford away, Wolves at home and Villa away are really tough tests.

“We have come through two tough tests so far and the one disappointment was that we led in both games and went down to 10 men.

“But we also managed to dig in and hold on for draws.”

Neil will welcome back Greg Cunningham and Ben Pearson after suspensions.

Cunningham missed the Wolves game after his red card at Brentford, with Pearson having served a two-match ban for 10 bookings.

If Cunningham plays, it will be his 100th appearance in a North End shirt.

While those two return, John Welsh misses out after his red card against Wolves.

Neil also reported that a couple of players picked up knocks on Saturday and were being assessed.

One of them was Daniel Johnson who had to be subbed late on after being struck in the face with the ball.

Awaiting North End in the West Midlands are a Villa side with plenty of experience at a higher level.

Neil sees their set-up and style as being very different to how Wolves operated.

Said Neil: “Aston Villa and Wolves have different systems and different shapes.

“Villa have got players who have played in the Premier League, they have some vast experience and rely on having really good players.

“They are patient behind the ball, I think they are joint second in the league for the number of counter-attack goals they have scored.

“Aston Villa set traps, nick the ball and try and hurt you that way.”

Preston will be backed by a decent-sized following, with 800 tickets sold by last night.

Neil said: “The fans have been great for us in terms of their travelling.

“We totally understand that it is expensive and time consuming, particularly on a Tuesday night away from home when you have work the next morning.

“The fans’ backing can help get an extra couple of per cent out of the team.”