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First Team News

Gaffer Relishing Fulham Challenge

8 March 2018

Manager Alex Neil is relishing the challenge of facing Fulham at Deepdale this weekend as his side look to build on Tuesday night's win over Bristol City.

Slaviša Jokanović's Fulham visit Deepdale sitting in fourth place in the table and on a run of nine wins in 11 games in the Championship. The PNE boss is looking forward to the preparation that will go in to this game, admitting it will be a difficult game but one he is confident his side are capable of winning.

Speaking to iFollow PNE ahead of the clash with the fellow promotion contenders, Alex said: "Whenever you are playing any of the top teams in the division, tactically, it always becomes more important because generally they have got clear patterns of how they play.

"They want to shift the ball quickly, either from side to side or they can play through you, whatever the case may be.

"Preparation wise, it probably becomes more important. No disrespect to the teams at the bottom end but more often than not they are fighting for scraps and its quite direct football, you’re picking up second balls, there is not a lot of detail involved; whereas these games are very different.

"I’ve got a good record against Slav’s teams although they’ve always been really difficult to play against, they’ve always been tight games.

"This Fulham team is probably the best team that I think we have faced in terms of shifting the ball."

"Earlier in the season they didn’t have that outlet in Mitrovic which made it a bit easier because you could really hunt and press everything in front of you.

"I think now that they have that outlet, they’ve got a target man, where they can play and they can turn you – it certainly becomes more difficult to stop."

North End were denied all three points in injury time in the reserve fixture back in October, and the gaffer felt the loss of two key players during the game in Sean Maguire and Ben Pearson was a turning point.

"We showed the last time when we went down there, first half we really should have put the game to bed, should have probably been three or four nil up."

"At the start of the second half we had a couple of chances as well. They made a couple of personnel changes, shifted their shape a little bit and it caused us problems in the second half.

"The biggest factor for us was losing Seani’s energy and his legs in terms of counter attacking. This will be a hard game, with the form they are on; however we are equally in great form. We have lost two in 20 in the league which is an incredible record so it should make for an entertaining match.

On that game at Craven Cottage, the gaffer added: "We lost our energy, it really is as simple as that. Ben Pearson covers a lot of ground for us, makes a lot of important tackles and Seani allows us to press from the front with real intensity. Then his running power, as it showed in the first goal, he set up Jordan [Hugill] but he broke down the left hand side.

"So whenever you lose two key players it’s always going to damage your team but having said all that it took us to make a mistake in the 96th minute for them to get a point.

"There’s no reason why we shouldn’t go into this game with real belief. However, we obviously understand that we are playing a good side and we can’t underestimate anybody."

It's an old cliche in football that every game is a big game, but that statement has never been truer for the Lilywhites as they look to close in on the top six after Tuesday's win saw the gap narrow to just one point.

On the importance of each game, the manager said: "It’s a snowball effect. With each game that goes by, it becomes bigger and bigger. If you win this one the next one becomes more important, and then after that the next one becomes more important. So what we’ve got to do is make sure that is the case because if you end up losing the next couple you are in danger of letting things peter out.

"We have worked too hard and too long this season to get to this point and just let it slip away."

"If you look at the determination the lads had on Tuesday night to make sure that we kept our season going, that we wanted to drive on and achieve something this year- that was there for everybody to see. This is going to be another really difficult step and another hard obstacle on the way to getting there, but it’s a challenge we are up for."

Watch the full interview with Alex on iFollow PNE now by clicking on the video above.


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