Time for Preston North End to step up another level says Alex Neil – starting at Stoke City

Alex Neil has applauded the progress Preston have made and believes his squad have the mentality to push beyond their current status.

Wednesday, 12th February 2020, 5:00 am
Andrew Hughes limped off at Wigan on Saturday with a tight hamstring

PNE face Stoke City at the bet365 Stadium tonight (8pm) and a continuation of their recent improved away results would keep them right up there in the promotion mix.

Neil thinks mentality just as much as ability will be key over the next couple of months as North End challenge to finish in the leading group.

He has seen his squad grow on both of those fronts and thinks there is more to come.

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Lilywhites manager Neil said: “If you think back two-and-a-half years to when I first came in, Ben Pearson, Ben Davies, Darnell Fisher and Tom Barkhuizen are unrecognisable now to what they were then, in my opinion.

“They have developed into top Championship players whereas before people were thinking, ‘They have potential but can they kick on’?

“Alan Browne is another one, Daniel Johnson too, so many of them have kicked on, developed into solid, quality Championship players.

“They have the capability of going again – that is great for them and great for us.

“We have turned into a good, solid Championship team and the next stage 
which is the hope this year is to turn the team into something that wants more than 
that.

“Mentality is key, that is something I have talked about a lot this season.

“It’s not enough for me that they are happy for us to be doing all right.

“Are we going in the right direction? I think we are.”

Neil says that the squad deserve praise for continuing to develop despite losing players along the way.

“We have sold £19m worth of transfers in that spell,” said the Scot. “If you have a look at a lot of other teams they have managed to keep hold of key players and top it up.

“We’ve lost key players but have still had to churn it out and get better.

“You ask any team in the division to do that and it is not easy. That is what this team has done and they deserve a lot of credit.

“I’m very demanding of them which I’m sure a lot of them have talked about.

“As soon as you are satisfied with what you have got, you will go backwards – we can’t ever be satisfied.”

North End will head to the Potteries this evening with a well-staffed squad.

The one concern might be Andrew Hughes who came off after 72 minutes of Saturday’s win at Wigan with a tight hamstring. Joe Rafferty is on stand-by.

Barkhuizen and Johnson will be on the lookout for more goals, having both found the net for the 10th time this season at Wigan.