Quick start could be key for PNE says Alex Neil

Preston’s play-off hopes move into do-or-die territory when they face Sheffield United at Bramall Laneon Saturday.

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Paul Gallagher's experience could be key against Sheffield United

Paul Gallagher's experience could be key against Sheffield United

The Lilywhites must win in South Yorkshire to have any chance of carrying their top-six ambitions forward to the final day of the season.

But even a victory might not be enough to guarantee their continued involvement in the play-off race.

Should Derby win at Aston Villa and Middlesbrough beat Millwall, that would see PNE out of the running.

Even a draw for Boro would take them to 73 points, that the maximum number North End can finish on and they have a inferior goal difference.

Alex Neil says his players just have to concentrate on doing their job and not worry about events elsewhere.

With three points needed, and the Blades in the same boat, Neil wants a faster start from Preston to give them a foothold in the game.

The PNE boss predicts an open game, with the option of ‘throwing the kitchen sink’ a strong possibility from both teams.

Neil said: “I’m expecting a toe-to-toe encounter, both teams have to go for the win.

“We have approached games a bit conservatively at certain times, probably down to the way we play.

“I wouldn’t say we are a throw-the-kitchen-sink type side – we generally build into games.

“When I was the Norwich manager, they were one of the highest scorers in the first 15 minutes of games.

“I’m trying to edge towards that here but it does take time to do.

“We need to start games quicker, be brighter, be more aggressive in terms of trying to get the first goal which is vital at this level.

“At the same time, you don’t want to leave yourselves exposed at the back and get done that way.”

Neil hopes to have Tom Clarke and Paul Huntington available after both picked up hamstring injuries last week against Norwich.

Further forward he might be tempted to tweak things, Josh Harrop having done his chances of a start no harm with some lively appearances off the bench lately.

He has to balance as well the need for Paul Gallagher’s experience in midfield with fresher legs.

Said Neil: “Our task is to win this one and hopefully that takes it into the last game.

“If that happens, let’s win the last game and finish the season well.

“Should a bit of fortune come our way, then we have an outside chance of getting in the play-offs.

“It’s nothing to do with what Derby and Cardiff did that we aren’t in the top six.

“At this point we just haven’t done enough to be in there.”