Winger Tom Barkhuizen finding his form again for Preston North End
Alex Neil is backing Preston winger Tom Barkhuizen to gain confidence from scoring his first goal in six months.
The 25-year-old netted in the midweek League Cup tie against Middlesbrough.
Barkhuizen had last scored in the Gentry Day victory at Bolton in March – one of eight goals he got last term.
This campaign he has yet to find his form, which has attracted some criticism.
North End manager Neil told the Post: “Tom has come in for a bit of stick, which is probably undeserved from my point of view.
“He works really hard for us and in the last couple of games his performances have improved, which is good.
“I think his goal will do him the world of good, his pace on the counter-attack and having that threat is really important to us.”
Barkhuizen clocked up the miles last season, featuring in all of PNE’s league games.
He started 43 of them and was introduced off the bench in the other three.
That caught up with him towards the end of the season and at times this term he has struggled in games.
Neil said: “Competition coming into the club changes things a little bit.
“Naturally you want to give the new boys an opportunity and maybe some of the lads who served us well last year are looking over their shoulder and seeing competition.
“It affects different people in different ways.
“I think we are starting to get more settled line-ups now, we are starting to perform a bit better.
“People find combinations with one another better and hopefully that can get us going in the right direction.”
Against Middlesbrough, Barkhuizen and Brandon Barker were PNE’s wide men.
That was only the second match the pair had started together, the other being the League Cup win at Leeds last month.
With PNE’s attacking play being good in midweek, Neil could well be tempted to start them again for the visit of West Bromwich Albion today.
Barker’s work-rate caught the eye of the Deepdale boss.
Neil said: “Brandon came on and did well at Sheffield United last week.
“His pace is a threat and his work ethic on Tuesday night was so pleasing.
“There was a time in the first half when Brandon made a real lung-buster of a run to get back to win the ball.
“It is that sort of appetite that you need and it was great to see.
“Brandon is a young lad and we are working hard with him to develop all aspects of his game.”
His fellow Manchester City loanee Lukas Nmecha has missed the last two games with a knee niggle but could return to the squad today.