After making four changes to Friday night’s draw to Bolton Wanderers, manager Alex Neil was full of praise for the players who returned to the side as North End got back to winning ways with a 2-1 win over Bristol City.
Ben Davies and Darnell Fisher both returned to the back four following their spells on the sidelines - as well as Jordan Hugill who also came back into the XI after returning from suspension, whilst the gaffer brought Daniel Johnson back into the fold from Friday.
A change in personnel also saw a change in system with Neil opting for a 4-4-2, and Neil felt it was no coincidence that the return of key players also saw a change in fortunes.
“I thought we deserved to win tonight,” said Neil post match. “What we did do tonight is display different tactics and a different formation to what we’ve done previously. We managed to get a few players back which is good but I just felt the full throttle that we’ve been playing previously would have been too much for the returning players.
“We were much more disciplined and much more in our shape and I thought the lads deserved the win, they played very well and deserved the three points.”
North End were well worth their clean sheet as well as their three points, but were denied such an accolade when Cauley Woodrow gave the hosts a consolation minutes before the end, and Neil was particularly complimentary of his side’s defending, acknowledging the displays of Ben Davies and Darnell Fisher in particular.
“Darnell Fisher and Ben Davies were fantastic,” Neil continued. “I know some people will be sick of me saying it but when you lose key players it does affect your side. We managed to get a couple of those key players back and they made a big impact for us.
“We had all of the chances in the first half apart from one and that came from a header that we missed and then the ball bundled about in the box - they managed to get a strike at it but Ben Davies did what good defenders do by getting himself into the position to block it.
“We asked Gally to tuck in on the right hand side which is different to what we’re used to so far this season but I just felt in recent weeks we’ve been a bit toothless up front. Jordan has been playing that role on his own so I thought we could do with a partner for him. I thought it worked okay, it might need a bit of work but equally we managed to score two goals. “It’s frustrating that we didn’t keep a clean sheet that the defending merited as I thought our defending was great.”
North End’s injury list made a considerable step in the right direction tonight with the aforementioned players coming back into the side, but it was also the return of Tom Clarke tonight which would have also pleased Neil, with the manager handing Clarke a minute or so on the field after seven months out.
“I just felt that if we were defending our box, who better than to have Tom Clarke to put his head in the areas," said Neil on bringing him on for the remaining embers of the game.
"What I didn’t want to do is to just accept that we were going to head the ball away for the last 15 minutes but equally towards the end, the likelihood was that we would need to in the end. It was nice to get Tom Clarke back out on the bench as he’s such a key influence on the club and we need him back in the action as soon as possible.”
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