Preston North End young guns on steep learning curve
Alex Neil admits it is difficult for Preston's young players to find consistency while they are still adapting to playing in the Championship.
Lilywhites manager Neil has had to dip deeply into the squad of late to cover the glut of injuries.
All first-team players available to Neil were on the bench against Birmingham last Saturday, with youngster Jack Baxter filling one of the substitute places.
Ryan Ledson came in at St Andrew’s for his first start since the 1-1 draw at Hull City on October 20.
Until playing in last week’s clash with Middlesbrough, Brandon Barker and Jordan Storey had not started since the Hull game.
When Graeme Burke came on as a second-half sub at the weekend, it was his first time on the pitch since the end of September.
Neil said: “We are relying on some young lads.
“With younger players, certainly the ones who are new to this level, they can come into the team and do a good job for a couple of games.
“When you are relying on them for three, four or five games, it is always going to be more difficult.
“Their experience levels are not there and they need to work their way into finding out what this level is all about and how to be effective.”
Ledson stood in for Ben Pearson in midfield against Birmingham.
It was only his sixth start in the Championship, having also come off the bench three times.
Centre-half Storey made his fifth league start in a PNE shirt.
Of the summer buys, it is Storey who has really caught the eye, even if his game-time has been limited.
This time last year, he had only played twice in Exeter’s first team – two minutes as a substitute in a League Two game and 90 minutes in a Checkatrade Trophy clash with Chelsea’s Under-21s.
Storey had started the last two Preston games alongside Paul Huntington.
Ben Davies’ absence with a hamstring injury opened the door for Storey.
Davies is one of the players who Neil hopes to have back for the visit to Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
While he was on the bench at Birmingham, it was more to make the numbers up, with Neil reluctant to risk him.
Pearson and Tom Clarke are the other two players who Neil wants back at Forest.
It has mainly been a case of ‘no Pearo, no party’ when the midfielder has missed games this season.
PNE lost all three when Pearson was suspended for his red card against Bolton in September.
When the 23-year-old was banned for the Hull game for five yellow cards, North End got a point.
At Birmingham, Pearson was badly missed, Neil not risking him after he limped through a lot of the previous game with Middlesbrough.