Preston North End's change of approach gave Tom Barkhuizen a lift
Alex Neil thinks Preston’s change of approach in the midweek win over Barnsley helped get Tom Barkhuizen back among goals.
Barkhuizen scored twice in the 3-0 win at Oakwell, his first time on the scoresheet since the end of October.
The 26-year-old and Scott Sinclair played as strikers in front of a re-shaped midfield.
While Barkhuizen has led the attack before this season, it was as the focal point in a 4-2-3-1 system rather than the 4-4-2 diamond used on Tuesday night.
North End manager Neil said: “Sometimes it is good to give players an element of freshness in terms of giving them a different challenge with a different shape.
“It was a different message to what I had been telling them in some of the previous games.
“Sometimes when you are going over the same things it can be repetitive and it might not intrigue them as much.
“So changing it for a bit of freshness can work. I thought that did the trick.
“It just makes them think more, rather than doing things on autopilot, it picks up their interest.
“It was a slightly different way of playing and how we pressed was different.
“They are an intelligent bunch here and pick things up pretty quickly.
“We had Daniel Johnson back in the middle and had Tom higher up the pitch, both very intelligent players.
“Tom is an influential player for us.”
Barkhuizen’s first goal at Barnsley saw him finish off a fine flowing move built on the edge of the box.
His second and North End’s third came when he broke clear to find the net, taking advantage of some poor Tykes defending.
The double took his tally for the season to nine goals, Barkhuizen now joint leading scorer with Johnson.
He had not scored since netting twice in the 3-2 victory over Blackburn.
The winner in the derby won him the Championship’s goal of the month award.
Barkhuizen has now scored 30 goals in his three years at Preston.
With North End having no game this weekend, Neil’s focus will fall on Swansea’s visit to Stoke tomorrow.
It is Swansea who are next up at Deepdale a week on Saturday, with Neil’s men playing Stoke on February 12.
If Swansea do not win in the Potteries, PNE will hang on to sixth place.
They are a point ahead of the South Wales outfit and have a better goal difference.
Swansea’s visit is one Neil has already described as ‘big’ due their proximity in the table.
The Championship table will have a different look on Tuesday, with eight fixtures that night.