Preston North End boss Alex Neil’s squad being stretched to the limit

Brandon Barker could start Preston's game against Middlesbrough at Deepdale tonight
Brandon Barker could start Preston's game against Middlesbrough at Deepdale tonight

Alex Neil will have to patch up his Preston side to get them through to the New Year after Callum Robinson joined the lengthening casualty list.

Tonight’s Deepdale clash with Middlesbrough is one of eight games North End face between now and January 1.

They will be without five creative attacking players for that run.

Hopefully a combination of the transfer market and the treatment room can then ease the situation.

A scan over the weekend revealed that Robinson had torn a hamstring tendon in the 4-1 win over Blackburn.

That will rule him out for a minimum of three months and he might need surgery.

Sean Maguire is likely to be sidelined until January with a hamstring strain.

Midfielder Daniel Johnson will be out for four to six weeks because of a damaged quad in his thigh, while Josh Harrop and Billy Bodin are long-term absentees after surgery on torn cruciate ligaments.

PNE boss Neil said: “That is five first-team lads out now that we know about Callum.

“We have got eight games between now and the start of January and none of those lads can help us in those.

“It’s fair to say that we aren’t just stretched, we are really stretched.”

Robinson’s workload in the international break, coupled with him featuring in all but one of North End’s games this season, seems to have taken its toll.

Said Neil: “When players have come back from being on international duty it seems to cause us issues.

“This is Callum’s first real injury of his career.

“We managed to rest the other lads in the break and get what work they needed into them.

“Callum was away and has done a lot more work. He is such an important player that we can’t drop him out when he comes back.

“Unfortunately that has been too much for him.

“I’m really disappointed for Callum, the kid is gutted as he was having the season of his life.

“He’s on 10 goals and we’ve not hit December yet.”

Robinson’s injury is likely to open the way for Brandon Barker to make a claim for the vacancy on the left wing.

It was Barker who came off the bench to replace him in Saturday’s victory, that the Manchester City loanee’s first slice of action for five weeks.

Barker caught the eye in that cameo role – it was his blocked shot which Louis Moult scored from.

And a couple of times he showed a great turn of pace on the counter-attack.

Moult will be pushing to start tonight after coming off the bench for his goal – Neil might favour using him ahead of Lukas Nmecha against an experienced Boro defence.