Preston North End boss Alex Neil ready for different Aston Villa test under Dean Smith

Tammy Abraham is Aston Villa's top scorer with 13 goals
Tammy Abraham is Aston Villa's top scorer with 13 goals

Preston North End manager Alex Neil will prepare his side for a different kind of test from Aston Villa to the one they got in October.

The clubs shared a thriller of a 3-3 draw in their meeting at Villa Park three months ago.

It was Steve Bruce’s last stand in charge of Villa, with Dean Smith now at the helm.

The change at the top has naturally brought a change of approach.

One defeat in the last nine, that last Sunday’s 3-2 reverse against Leeds, suggests Villa are on the right track under Smith’s tutelage.

Neil said: “As you’d expect Dean has naturally brought his blueprint from Brentford to Aston Villa.

“They probably cross the ball more than Brentford did under him, that is probably because they have got Tammy Abraham in the box who will stick his head on things.

“Villa have two No.10s who play on the wrong side of your midfield and they have wide players who hold their width.

“They have scored a lot of goals but they conceded them too.

“We have to make sure we carry a threat, have that bit of a fear factor for them.

“It could well be an open game and we have tended to be at our best in games like that.

“Villa have some quality players, they are on a good run at the moment.

“They beat Swansea away on Boxing Day which is a tough place to go.

“Villa have guys in their team who have played in the Premier League for the vast majority of their days.

“As a club they have spent vast amounts of money too.

“They have just spent £7m on a goalkeeper – it would be nice to get that type of cash!”

Villa’s good form started in early November and going into Sunday’s clash with Leeds were seven games unbeaten.

They led 2-0 by the 17th minute in that game, only for Leeds to mount a second-half fight back .

On Wednesday they got back to winning ways, with a Conor Hourihane goal enough to beat Swansea.

Striker Abraham, on loan from Chelsea, is Villa’s top scorer with 13 goals in 18 games.

Abraham who has also had loan spells with Bristol City and Swansea, scored in the 3-3 draw with PNE.

That was a game in which Villa led 2-0 before North End stormed back in the second half to turn the contest on its head and go 3-2 up.

Villa levelled late on and then had a chance to win it with the last kick of the game when they were awarded a penalty.

But Chris Maxwell dived to save Glenn Whelan’s effort, the draw ending a run of four league defeats for North End.

With the trip to Deepdale looming, Villa boss Smith was pleased with the character his side showed at Swansea.

Smith said: “I was really pleased with the resilience shown throughout the team.

“It was pleasing because we showed another side to our game.

“Our grit and determination has been questioned but not this time. We started slowly but created chances.”