Preston young stars Ethan Walker and Adam O'Reilly deserved their debuts, says boss Alex Neil

Alex Neil says he gave Preston North End debuts to Ethan Walker and Adam O'Reilly on merit and not through any feeling of sentiment.

Preston North End's Ethan Walker replaces Preston North End's Paul Gallagher
Preston North End's Ethan Walker replaces Preston North End's Paul Gallagher

Walker, 16, became the youngest player to turn out for PNE in a league game when he replaced Paul Gallagher in stoppage-time of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.

A few minutes earlier, 17-year-old O’Reilly had come on for Graham Burke.

The pair were among four teenagers on the bench, Jack Baxter and Connor Simpson the other two.

Neil felt the substitutions were needed to give North End fresh legs to help see out the game and earn a point.

He admitted there was an element of risk with O’Reilly and Walker being so young but was prepared to do that.

“When you are stood on the side of the pitch as a manager you have probably got half of the crowd thinking ‘Give them a go’ and the other half not wanting you to put the kids on because we need to hang on to get a point,” said Neil.

“At that stage I’m having to judge it as I see it, I have to make an educated decision based on what I know they can do.

“If Villa were to score and a young lad makes a mistake, I bear the brunt of it.

“If one of them scores it is excellent and they are the hero. I had no problem at all in putting them on.

Walker stepped on to the Deepdale turf aged 16 years and 156 days.

Although Brandon Zibaka remains the youngest player to play for PNE, that came in a League Cup game.

So Walker, a former pupil of Broughton High, has his own piece of club history.

It was ironic that he came on for Gallagher who at 34, is the senior figure in the North End squad.

Gallagher’s league debut for Blackburn in March 2003 came when Walker was just six months old!

Neil said: “Ethan is a good player, if anyone came to watch the FA Youth Cup game against Charlton, he was one of the outstanding players.

“Jack Baxter was too that night and Jack was a little bit unfortunate not to come on against Villa.

“I just thought it was the guys at the top end of the pitch getting fatigued first, that is where Adam and Ethan play.”

Alan Browne joined the long casualty list on Friday when he felt his hamstring tighten in training.

While he isn’t expected to be out for long, tomorrow’s trip to Rotherham United will come too soon.

On the transfer front, it is likely that Walsall winger Josh Ginnelly will land at Deepdale early in the window .

Saddlers boss Dean Keates confirmed over the weekend that 21-year-old Ginnelly would be leaving, with him left out of the last three games.