Preston boss Alex Neil's ploy to utilise pace was a major factor in his team's win over Stoke City

Paul Gallagher in the thick of the action against Stoke
Paul Gallagher in the thick of the action against Stoke

Alex Neil felt his Preston team won the tactical battle against Stoke City on Wednesday night at Deepdale.

North End emerged victorious 3-1 on the night courtesy of goals from Daniel Johnson, Billy Bodin and Josh Harrop - James McLean's scoring a late consolation effort for the Potters.

Neil certainly sprung a surprise before the game with his selection for the visit of City

Unable to call upon the services of Louis Moult - who looks set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines after it was confirmed he ruptured his cruciate knee ligament against Swansea on Saturday - and concussion victim Sean Maguire, many fans were expecting Jayden Stockley to be handed the centre forward role.

However, Neil opted to utilise the pace of Tom Barkhuizen as his main striker, with Daniel Johnson in an advanced midfield role.

The pair were supported by Billy Bodin and Josh Harrop on either wing, with Ben Pearson and Paul Gallagher lying deeper pulling the strings.

"I think there were a few eye brows raised before the game," said Neil. "But I am paid to make difficult decisions which if they go wrong you're going to get criticised and if they go right, it's happy days for everybody.

"I'm just really pleased it worked out well. The two big centre backs for Stoke were always going to be caused trouble by pace if the supply down both sides was going to be good enough.

"I think if you look at both goals in the first half, the first one Tom gets down the sides and cuts it back, DJ manages to get his goal.

"The second one, it gets put in behind for Tom to chase and we managed to get a little bit of fortune in terms of the ball going under the goalkeeper.

"The third goal was good in terms of the counter attacking and game management, it was good."

Neil was impressed with the interchange of play between the front six and the way it enabled PNE to comfortably control the game.

"It wasn't like Saturday where we played in Swansea's half in the first half the whole time," he said.

"Stoke are a big physical team and have good players all over the pitch.

"The diamond formation makes it difficult to lock on to at times which means it's difficult - it's sort of strategy versus strategy, they have it, we have it and then it comes down to who can use it better and can shut the space down better.

"I thought in both instances, we did it better."

Neil revealed that Maguire was unavailable for selection after suffering a blow to the head on Saturday at the Liberty Stadium.

"The penalty we got on Saturday, the lad headed him in the side of the face and he took another knock later on when the centre back headed him in the back of the head.

"I think he will come into contention on Saturday, we are monitoring him."

Tom Clarke was withdrawn shortly before half-time against Stoke after picking up a knee injury.

"Tom just opened up his medial," Neil said. "I don't think it's a really bad one."