Return of Preston North End's 'Fab Four' crucial to boss Alex Neil

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Alex Neil is delighted with the return of his four key players but thinks they also bring out the best in their team-mates.

For the first time this season each of his ‘big four’ were named in the starting XI.

That is, Ben Davies, Alan Browne, Ben Pearson and Daniel Johnson – all players whose contracts end in the summer.

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Their quality is undeniable and they improve the PNE side, the midweek victory against Bournemouth perhaps a good indicator of that.

The two Bens – Pearson (left) and Davies – give PNE a platform to build from the backThe two Bens – Pearson (left) and Davies – give PNE a platform to build from the back
The two Bens – Pearson (left) and Davies – give PNE a platform to build from the back

For the Lilywhites’ boss, the two Bens are fundamental to his side’s style of play and have an effect all over the pitch.

He said: “From my perspective, when you’ve got the likes of Ben Davies and Ben Pearson, they give us the platform to build from the back.

“As a consequence of that, Daniel Johnson playing as a No.10 can get better quality deliveries into him which means he can play on the half turn more.

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“I think you saw his creative aspect against Bournemouth. DJ created two goals in that game, one for Patrick Bauer and another across the face for Tom Barkhuizen.

“But when we build from the back, I think DJ becomes a better player further up the pitch.

“That’s why it’s so important to get Ben Pearson and Ben Davies back in, because it gives us that natural balance and allows us to play and retain the ball for spells in the game.”

It will be a different test for PNE against former player Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers this weekend.

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The Chairboys had the least possession in the entirety of League One last season and the task will be to break them down.

Though it’s a different approach his own, Neil can appreciate its effectiveness. He said: “It’s the complete opposite challenge to Bournemouth – I think Bournemouth are first or second in the league in terms of controlling possession.

“Wycombe’s pass per goal is 0-.9, so it’s either a corner or a set play or it’s just a direct ball that drops and someone puts it in the net.

“They’re not interested in playing with the ball but they’ll make it extremely difficult for you and they won’t let you control the game with the ball, they’ll play right up against you.

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“It’s going to be a tough match, it’s going to be a physical match and we’re going to have to stand up to that element of it.

“I’m sure Gareth will make no apologies for that and why should he?

“Your job as a manager is to get the best result possible and at the moment he’s doing a good job of that.

“I think they came into the league trying to embrace it and trying to give it a go but they realised that the Championship isn’t that easy.

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“What they’ve resorted to is, ‘Let’s be hard to beat, let’s make sure we don’t concede goals, let’s make sure we get in the faces of people and make it extremely difficult’.

“I think they’ve been successful in doing that.

“Bearing in mind that they’ve beaten Watford – who are a very good side – and they’ve drawn with Brentford and stopped them from scoring.

“To be able to do it against that type of opposition shows how difficult it will be to break them down.”

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