Two years in the Preston North End manager's job for Alex Neil
Today marks two years in the Preston North End manager’s office for Alex Neil.
The Lilywhites got their man on July 4, 2017, less than a week after Simon Grayson had jumped ship to take the Sunderland job.
Neil had quickly emerged as their No.1 choice, the Scot available after being sacked by Norwich City four months earlier.
Several things on his CV caught the eye of PNE, the fact he had taken Norwich to the Premier League being of major significance.
A promotion in Scotland with Hamilton Academical was not overlooked either, so too his early days in coaching had been at youth level, hence a willingness to work with younger players.
Neil is 99 not out when it comes to competitive games in charge of Preston.
That almost stopped at 95 in April but more of that a bit later on.
North End have won 38 of their games under Neil, drawn 30 and lost 31.
They finished seventh in their first season with him at the helm, then 14th last term.
In May 2018 they were in with a shout of the play-offs until the final afternoon.
As it was Derby County hung on to sixth place, with Neil’s men two points behind.
Last season they bounced back from a poor start to get into seventh place by March.
When they broke-up for the March international break, only goal difference kept them apart from Aston Villa in sixth.
Four points from the last eight games saw PNE slide away into mid-table, a finish Neil was both frustrated and angry about - contrast that with Villa who pushed on to win promotion via the play-offs.
Within that run was a 4-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Gentry Day.
At the time that looked like being a last game in charge, with speculation rife that Neil was on his way to become the Baggies' new manager.
He signed a new three-year contract with North End the following lunchtime though, and is now preparing for his third season in charge.
With two years under his belt, Neil is long-serving as far as managers in PNE’s recent history is concerned.
Grayson’s four years and four months in charge has him way out in front in terms of service but by next month Neil will be the second longest serving of the last decade or so when he overtakes Alan Irvine’s 25 months at the helm.
A big season is ahead for him, the desire being to get Preston challenging at the top end of the Championship and to do so consistently.
The last two campaigns have seen North End hit really good spells of form but get undone by runs of bad results and injuries.
Finding consistency and keeping the injury list in check are matters high on Neil's agenda over the coming months.