Preston North End defender Jordan Storey is put to the test by three of the Championship's best strikers
Preston North End did not need telling that their first three games after the international break had a tough look about them.
Norwich, Swansea and Brentford from the Championship’s top four was some test.
Two down and one to go, so far so good, four points gained to help put more distance between themselves and the bottom three.
For Jordan Storey and the others in North End’s defence, these games have pitted and will pit them against three of the division’s best strikers.
Last Friday, 25-goal Teemu Pukki led the Norwich attack at Deepdale.
They faced Andre Ayew at Swansea on Easter Monday – scorer of 14 goals this season – and did not give him a kick.
This weekend, the best of the lot comes to Deepdale in the shape of Ivan Toney.
The Brentford striker tops the scoring charts with 28 goals, two of those coming against PNE in that extraordinary clash in the capital in October.
If Storey can came through unscathed by 5pm on Saturday, he will sleep well for a few days.
“We’ve played some good teams and come up against some good strikers lately,” said the central defender.
“There’s been Pukki with Norwich and then Ayew at Swansea.
“Now we’ve got Toney who is the best in the Championship this season.
“You can’t allow strikers like that a yard on you or give them a sniff because they will punish you, as we saw with Toney when we played Brentford at their place.
“We know what quality these strikers have so it is a case of staying switched on and giving your all.
“All our defenders can take confidence from the last two games in terms of how we dealt with them.
“I don’t think Swansea had a shot on target and we managed to limit Norwich to one goal.
“When you consider what they went and did to Huddersfield the other night, we did well.”
North End flipped their formation between the Norwich game and the trip to Swansea.
They played 4-1-3-2 against the Canaries, then 3-4-1-2 in South Wales.
Storey featured in both, in fact he has started the last dozen matches in what had otherwise been a rather in-and-out season for him.
He got his place back for the derby win at Blackburn in February, with Alex Neil and latterly McAvoy sticking with him from then on.
The change between four and three at the back wasn’t a huge issue for the North End defenders.
Said Storey: “We have switched to 3-5-2 on a few occasions this season and done well with it.
“When we go three at the back, myself and Andrew Hughes are more than comfortable going out wide in the three.
“Liam Lindsay does well slotting in down the middle.
“We are all more than capable of switching to different systems, it’s part of being a footballer.”
Aged 23 and having signed for PNE three years ago after only a handful of appearances for Exeter, Storey has always talked about his time at Preston being a learning curve.
He has got 72 appearances under his belt, a number which points to having had spells out of the team.
Another learning curve which came Storey’s way recently was adapting to a change of manager.
Neil went 24 hours after the defeat to Luton, with McAvoy stepping up as interim head coach.
Storey said: “Frankie had been here for a few years so we all knew him, it wasn’t like someone coming from the outside.
“He has tweaked little things, maybe simplified a few things. It’s been good, Frankie has had a right go at it and you can only take your hat off to him.
“Hopefully we can have a strong finish to the season and take things from there.
“For me personally, it’s been a mixed season, in the first 12 games or so I was inconsistent. I’ve played the last 12 games which have been better.”
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