`

Sean Gregan’s exclusive column: Alex Neil’s men have to dig in to put an end to bad run

Preston North End's players in despair after Sheffield United's third goal
Preston North End's players in despair after Sheffield United's third goal

Saying that Preston North End have had a bad week is stating the obvious really, with three successive defeats and nine goals conceded.

Their form is a worry and being bottom of the table should certainly concentrate minds.

The fact they are leaking so many goals is the biggest concern for me.

To be conceding three goals per game shows that the balance isn’t right.

Alex Neil has tried a few different things to stop the flow – changing players and formation – but the fact is you have to go back to the opening day for a clean sheet in the league.

Last season, North End prided themselves on being hard to beat and tight at the back, however such traits are lacking this time.

What was so frustrating about the 3-2 defeat against Sheffield United was that they had got themselves back in the game.

At 2-0 they looked dead and buried but two quick goals as the game entered its last 10 minutes hauled them level.

So to concede again and be left empty-handed was a tough one to take.

As things stand they are in a relegation battle, there is no other way of dressing it up.

Two or three good results would change that but their concentration has to be on fighting their way out.

They have a good manager in Alex Neil and I think he will get it right.

He will have to rely on the players he has got for now, it is only in January that Neil could strengthen.

Sometimes a run like the one North End are on, is very much down to confidence.

When you are playing well and winning, conceding a goal and going behind does not particularly affect you.

But if results haven’t been good, the pressure builds when you go behind and you can think ‘Here we go again’.

It is Middlesbrough next for Preston in the League Cup on Tuesday night.

While all the focus might be on the Championship, a win in this competition could do wonders.

Any victory gives a team confidence and North End need something to take into a tough league game against West Bromwich next week.

Beating Boro would see a few smiles on faces, give them that bit of belief which they won’t have just at the moment.

It won’t be easy, with Boro level on points at the top of the Championship table with Leeds United.

You would expect Boro to make a few changes so just maybe that could work in Preston’s favour?

Then it is West Brom on Saturday, the highest scorers in the division.

It was the Baggies who I left Preston to join back in the summer of 2002.

They gave me my chance at the age of 28 to play in the Premier League – that was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.

Premier League football was the only reason I was ever going to leave PNE.

I enjoyed my time there, as I did at Deepdale, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on it.