Preston North End boss Alex Neil has had to dig deep this season

Ben Davies has made most PNE appearances so far this season
Ben Davies has made most PNE appearances so far this season

Preston boss Alex Neil thinks squad depth at Championship level is even more vital than in the Premier League.

Neil has been forced to dig deep into his player pool over the course of the campaign to cover a raft of injuries.

When it came to picking a side and substitutes to face Leeds in midweek, Neil was without nine players.

The situation might only ease slightly for today’s visit to West Bromwich, with Paul Gallagher hoping to return.

Playing Saturday/Tuesday/Saturday puts a demand on squads at the best of times, not least when the opponents for PNE are all in the top four.

Neil said: “We have dipped into the squad all season and it is no different at present.

“In the Championship, even more so than the Premier League, you need your squad to be strong. In the Premier League, unless you are one of the big teams playing midweek in the Champions League, your games are more spaced out.

“That gives you more time to spend on recovery.

“For many in our division, squad strength is crucial.

“The way the games come, you have to dip into the squad often to cover for injuries.

“Consistency in line-up is something you want to get if you can.

“In the 12-game unbeaten run we recently had, in eight of those I would say we were quite consistent in the lads we put out there.

“If you look at the division, Norwich, Sheffield United and Leeds will have had the most consistent line-ups.

“The fact we haven’t is a major factor why we have dropped a bit short.”

No one in the North End squad has been ever-present this season.

Ben Davies has started 34 of the 41 Championship games to date. Alan Browne and Declan Rudd have both started 33 times in the league, Browne having the most minutes on the pitch in the squad, having also come off the bench twice.

Next in the list is Andrew Hughes with 31 starts in the Championship but he will not play again this season having damaged a hamstring tendon.

Neil has used 29 players in league games this term.

That list includes Ethan Walker and Adam O’Reilly who came on as substitutes in December’s draw with Aston Villa, and Daryl Horgan on the opening day of the campaign prior to joining Hibernian.

There are still two players in the first-team squad yet to make their PNE debuts.

January window buys Josh Ginnelly and Connor Ripley have been kept waiting for different reasons.

Ginnelly has been on the bench a few times but has not got the chance to come on.

Goalkeeper Ripley is back in training after tearing an ankle ligament.