Preston North End boss Alex Neil promises Friday night fever in derby against Blackburn Rovers

PNE boss Alex Neil is not down-playing the importance of this evening’s Lancashire derby with Blackburn Rovers despite no fans being involved.

By Tom Sandells
Sunday, 14th February 2021, 1:56 pm

It is a night in front of the lights and the cameras for North End, who kick off on Sky Sports at 7.45pm.

It will be a derby with a difference however as Ewood will be silent. Normally, PNE would take a 7,000-strong contingent with them to fill out the away end.

Both Blackburn and Preston have turned to alternatives, fan noise being played over speakers during their matches. But due to the game being on TV, this is not possible tonight.

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Lilywhites boss Alex Neil

Despite the Lilywhites’ faithful not being in attendance, Neil is aware of the importance if the fixture to them.

He said: “Football isn’t the same without fans irrespective of whether it’s a derby or not. The biggest difference generally in derby games that I’ve been involved in at every club I’ve been at is the atmosphere.

“Unfortunately the atmosphere won’t be there because the fans are the ones who generate that, the game won’t be the same but it doesn’t carry any less weight to what it means to the fans or the team.

“I don’t think some people understand how much a crowd can have an impact on a game.

“If you get a goal in a game and then the crowd are up backing the team, or vice versa, the team isn’t playing so well and the team gets on their back, a team could either dip or be lifted off the crowd’s emotions.

“That element of the game will not be there.”

It will be touch and go as to whether Neil will have his skipper available for the clash, with Alan Browne missing out against Rotherham United through injury.

When it comes to picking his team this season, Neil admits that he’s taken a different approach.

Rather than having a ‘Best XI’ of sorts to return to, the Scot instead has favoured giving players runs of games to find form and keep their place if they recently claimed it.

He said: “Since we’ve stopped playing midweek games, the loading has been quite similar for most of the players. That’s not really been affected.

“We have varied the time quite often this season, some through choice some not through choice.

“What I’ve tended to do more so this year than before, is I would have a set XI that I would go to that I thought, ‘Yeah, they’re my best team’.

“What I tended to do this year is give guys more of a run of games when they come in, rather than dipping them in and out. So when lads have come in they’ve played two, three or four on the bounce to try and get them going.”

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