Alex Neil knows good Christmas could see Preston North End eyeing up '˜top echelon' of Championship

Alex Neil knows a good couple of weeks over Christmas and New Year will see his Preston North End side eyeing up the sharp end of the Championship.

Friday, 21st December 2018, 5:00 am

Bottom of the table at one point during a poor start to the campaign, the Lilywhites head to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday having lost just one of their last 12.

The 3-2 win over Millwall last time out moved PNE closer to the play-off places, eight points, than the relegation zone, which are nine points away.

The trip to face the struggling Owls will kick off a run of four games in 10 days over the festive period, with home games against Hull and Aston Villa to follow before Neil takes his side to Rotherham on New Year’s Day.

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Lukas Nmecha (above) will again lead the line for PNE should Louis Moult be unavailable at Hillsborough

“With Millwall on Saturday the gap could have been down to three points or up to nine as it is now,” said the PNE boss. “That’s a significant difference.

“Those games are crucial and we’ve got two or three coming up which are really crucial for us to make sure we pick up as many points as we can.

“If we do that then hopefully going into the new year we can start looking up the table and trying to pull ourselves into that top echelon.

“On paper it could be an exciting time but I’d be more excited if I had a fully fit squad going into it to be honest.

“It’s always difficult when you’ve got key players missing.

“But we’ve won four games out of six, which is great going when you look our injury record.

“The lads deserve a massive amount of credit for what they’ve churned out over the last few games.”

North End will be looking to continue their improving away record in South Yorkshire, with Wednesday fans confronting owner Dejphon Chansiri at a heated fans’ 
forum on Wednesday night as their team’s slide continues.

PNE, on the other hand, have won two of their last three games away from Deepdale.

“We’ve certainly got better on the road recently and that’s something we want to try and maintain,” said Neil. “We were a bit disappointed with our away from earlier in the season.

“We were frustrated too – some games we played particularly well in and we didn’t get anything from the match.

“We peppered Swansea in the second half and didn’t get anything. We want to make sure this run on the road continues this weekend.”

Louis Moult is a doubt with a hamstring problem, having missed the win over Millwall.

That would leave Lukas Nmecha as the only fit out-and-out striker, with academy players again likely to be on the bench, Ethan Walker and Jack Baxter both having featured.