Preston North End manager Alex Neil is looking forward to the test against Fulham on Tuesday night and is hoping to be able to find a balance to his side that has been hit by injuries in recent games.
The Lilywhites’ gaffer spoke to iFollow PNE ahead of the game against Scott Parker’s Cottagers and admitted it had been hard to get the team into shape with so many on the sidelines.
“Our last home performance was very good - against West Brom - and we didn’t deserve to lose the game,” he explained. “I thought, if anything, we deserved to nick something, as we certainly had chances in the second half and it has been a difficult run for us.
“We have had a lot of key players missing, in the same areas and that has made it really tough.
“We want to try and get back to winning ways and Fulham are one of the better teams in the league, so it going to be tough for us, but we have to apply ourselves and play really well.
“It has been difficult to get the balance right and I am asking some lads to go and play in areas that doesn’t really suit them, which isn’t fair on them. The balance has been really difficult to strike; we have lost two centre backs – albeit the other lads have come in and done fine – but we haven’t got the natural balance with a left footer.
“The game before last we had four right footed players right across the back and it is difficult to build, because you do not have the balance; we have also lost two technical builders, who drop out and help us to build play in Gally and DJ and the other lads who come in and take their place are different sorts of players, so it has been difficult to get that balance right to give us a platform to go and play.
“We have gone quite direct in the last few games and you are really relying then on picking up bits, being really aggressive and winning headers and that is not always easy to do. If you are a centre forward up there, you are fighting against two centre halves by yourself, so it has been tough. But having said that, there have been key moments that have gone against us in games with decisions and that certainly hasn’t helped.
“In the second half against QPR we were building a head of steam and getting few opportunities, but then the penalty – which I am still not convinced about – took the wind out of our sales in the second half.”
It is a while since we last faced the Cottagers, with their year in the Premier League, so what has changed under Parker’s spell as manager?
“If it is possible, they probably play even more,” continued Alex. “I have looked at their average percentage across the season and they going from 70’s into 60’s for every game. There are very few games where they have had less possession than the opposition.
“They like to dominate the ball, have good footballers and they have got pedigree and quality all over the pitch, so it is going to be a tough game, but as we showed against West Brom, we can do really against those teams, as long as we do it properly, so it will be another challenge for us.
“It is a game we really need to embrace and go and try and get the points. It will be a tough game; they have got a wide ranging set of players who can do a lot of things – Cairney will drop out and get them playing, they can go long to Mitrovic if they want, they have pace off the sides and they have players who can drop in and play out of the pockets; so they have a little bit of everything and we just need to make sure we restrict what we deem their biggest strengths to be and force them back the other way.”
And a win against them would make the gap to them – in third – back to just a point, which shows how tight the division is: “Football is about perspective, isn’t it? When you are winning games, you think you are going to win the league, the World Cup and everything else that is coming your way! When you are losing, you can’t see the end in sight.
“We have to make sure that we steady the ship a little bit, do everything we can in this game, get some points on the board hopefully and then get on to the next ones and I am quite confident we will have a lot of bodies back as well and that will certainly help us as well,” added the PNE manager.