Tom Clarke saluted by Preston North End boss Alex Neil

Alex Neil has applauded the job which Preston skipper Tom Clarke has done in the right-back role of late.

Saturday, 1st December 2018, 5:00 am

Lilywhites boss Alex Neil has chosen Clarke ahead of Darnell Fisher for the last five matches.

That is likely to be the case against Birmingham today, with Clarke not allowing a painful reunion with former team-mate Jordan Hugill to stop him playing.

Clarke clashed heads with Hugill in the latter stages of Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough.

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PNE skipper Tom Clarke has made the right-back berth his own

His nose was rearranged in the incident, the discomfort unlikely to worry him.

“Tom decided to head the back of Jordan Hugill’s head with his face,” said Neil.

“His nose is somewhere out there now but he’ll be fine and I don’t worry about him.

“Tom has done great for us at right-back in the last few games.

“Darnell has been our right-back predominantly since I’ve been here but I felt his performance had dipped and he wasn’t doing as well as he could be.

“So I decided to freshen it up and put Tom there.

“I thought Middlesbrough’s threat was perfect for Tom the other night. We wanted to make our back four really big and strong and Tom fitted into that very well.

“Tom has played against some really nippy and quick wingers.

“What he does is not to give them the chance to turn and run at him – he is aggressive in the first movement.”

Clarke, 30, might not offer a big attacking threat from the right-back role but Neil says that was similar with Fisher.

“I don’t think attacking is Darnell’s biggest strength,” said Neil.

“His one-on-one defending is where his strength is. In that right-back slot we have got good competition at the moment.”

Another right-back, Calum Woods, returned to the bench for the Middlesbrough game.

It was Woods’ first time in the squad since pulling up with a hamstring strain in the League Cup victory against Morecambe in August.

With Woods having had hamstring issues in recent seasons, Preston have taken no risks with him this time.

He has been on a fitness programme to try and prevent a reoccurrence of the injury.

It was unlikely that Woods would have been called on in the Middlesbrough game.

Fisher and Andrew Hughes offered alternative defensive cover on the bench.

Meanwhile, North End’s youth team will be in action at Deepdale on Tuesday night against Charlton in the third round of the FA Youth Cup.

Season tickets holders get in free, while it is £4 for adults, £2 for concessions and 
under-11s are free when 
accompanied by an adult.