Targetman Jayden Stockley has big role to play in Preston North End frontline
Alex Neil admits that Jayden Stockley has deserved more starts in the Preston attack but it has been a case of picking and choosing his opponents.
The big striker scored his fourth goal in PNE colours in last Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday.
That was only his second start in the last seven games, Neil seeing Stockley’s power as a good way to undo the Owls’ defence.
The 25-year-old made a £750,000 move from Exeter in January.
His 16 appearances have consisted of seven starts and nine from the bench.
Lilywhites manager Neil said: “Jayden has been a little bit unfortunate in that he has probably merited starts.
“The issue I have got is with the sort of the team we play.
“If Jayden is in the team we need to go more direct.
“There’s no point playing pretty passing, getting the ball out from the back, spreading the centre-backs. If you do that, you aren’t going to get the best out of him.
“It was like when Jordan Hugill was here, we played to his strengths.
“When you do go a bit more direct, you get categorised as a long-ball team.
“We aren’t a long-ball side, if you saw us against Sheffield Wednesday we turned the first ball forward but it was a pass rather than a punt.
“Then we worked off the first ball, made passes and worked that way.
“We need to get our balance right in terms of how much to play, when to turn the ball and work off that first phase.”
Signing Stockley ended Neil’s year-long search for a targetman.
He has seen the striker’s game develop over the last four months.
Said Neil: “His link-up play with his feet was as good in the Sheffield Wednesday game as it has been,
“That is probably the thing which naturally improves with the step up in levels.
“When the ball is at your feet you have to look after it better, if you are slack with your passing you will lose it. What he does in the air is his bread and butter, we know what he is capable of.
“Some of Jayden’s passing with his head was incredible – against Wednesday he was threading people through with headers.
“Certain games will suit Jayden more than others.
“It suited him last week as Sheffield Wednesday play with two banks of four.
“Birmingham was similar in the way they lined up.”
Stockley will hope to keep his place for the final game of the season at Brentford on Sunday.
Last week, he led the line, with Callum Robinson and Sean Maguire playing wide of him, while Alan Browne was in the No.10 role behind.
After a run of nine starts, Lukas Nmecha dropped to the bench against Wednesday.
The Manchester City loan man joined the action later in the second half when Browne went off with an ankle injury.
Meanwhile, tickets remain on sale for Sunday’s game.
More than 550 of Preston’s 1,600 ticket allocation have been sold, with both seats and terrace available.