PNE boss Alex Neil hails honesty of squad as they look to get back on track at Reading

Preston boss Alex Neil has thrown a protective arm around his squad as they look to bounce back from their two Easter defeats in tomorrow's visit to Reading.

Friday, 6th April 2018, 7:00 am

Neil indicated that he felt some of the criticism which came PNE’s way had been on the harsh side for a team three points shy of the play-offs.

He accepts that there are parts of their game which can be improved – their approach in the final third certainly a work in progress.

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North End manager Alex Neil has defended his players after the Easter defeats

But Neil also wants more recognition of the progress they have made this season.

“We recognise what we are, how we go about our work, what we are good at, what we are not so good at and what we need to improve on,” said Neil.

“This is the most honest bunch of players I have ever worked with.

“They know what they need to work on, it is not as if we are kidding ourselves on that we are great at everything because we are not.

North End manager Alex Neil has defended his players after the Easter defeats

“We need to improve on certain aspects and we work really hard to try and do that.

“It’s why I feel protective of them, they give me everything they have got – I couldn’t ask any more of them.”

Results elsewhere meant that the damage caused by the Easter defeats was limited.

But being back in 10th place means they have work to do and cannot really afford to slip up in the last six games.

Said Neil: “It is just a case of being focused and keeping a belief in what we are doing.

“The way we have played and how we have gone about our work has got us into the situation we are in.

“When you get a couple of setbacks everyone wants you to make wholesale changes.

“It is about being on the end of big opportunities when they come along.

“You can argue that we were two chances away from having an unbelievable week with Ben Davies’ header at Sheffield Wednesday and then Alan Browne’s penalty in the Derby game.

“If those had gone in against teams who sit behind the ball, their whole plan would have had to change.

“We have six games left and need to go and win as many of them as we can.

“That is a challenge we are looking forward to and there is no better motivation than proving people wrong.”

PNE head to the Madejski Stadium with no fresh injury worries from Easter.

A big selection issue for Neil will be which goalkeeper he chooses.

He has swapped between Chris Maxwell and Declan Rudd in the last three games, the initial change made for the Sunderland game last month when Rudd was attending the birth of his son.

Sean Maguire has missed out on the player of the month award, Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic winning it.