Preston North End manager Alex Neil has not had too many selection headaches of late.
The Lilywhites boss has only made one change to his starting 11 in the last six matches, but is well aware that he has a group of players ready to step in, if and when they are needed.
After the second behind closed doors reserve game in a fortnight where his team have gone and hit five goals, the gaffer knows that he has players who are chomping at the bit for their opportunity and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Naturally, the lads who are in the team, when they are performing well, expect to stay in the team,” he told iFollow PNE. “That isn’t always the case when I am picking my team, I try to pick the team that is best suited to winning the game, however, with performances, when certain players play as well as they can, you find it nearly impossible to put them out of the team.
“There have been a lot of transitions this season. Darnell is a good example; in the first half of the season – like the team as a group – he wasn’t at his best, but the second half, he has performed really well and you could probably say that about quite a few across the board.
“We have altered slightly how we play; we have altered how we attack and the balance of the team has changed as well. We have come up with better solutions than we had at the start of the season.
“It is always difficult to keep the other group of players motivated. They see the team doing well and see the guy in their position doing well and it is hard not to let their heads go down.
“But what we have tried to do is to have adequate games for them to play in and make sure they are ready if their chance comes, because it will come – it is only natural that loss of form, injury or suspension will happen and they have to make sure they are at the forefront of my mind every day, so that I am thinking ‘he’s ready and if we need him, he is more than capable of coming in and doing a job’.
“Attitude is crucial at these key points and thankfully for us we have a fantastic group of players, whose attitude in general terms is excellent, so it is not a concern for us at all.”
For those that have been playing regularly, this week has very much been about rest and recovery and only know as the trip to Millwall approaches, will preparations begin in earnest.
“For the lads who have been playing, we are not going to get them any fitter by working them,” continued Alex. “The only thing we would do is risk injury, by accumulated fatigue, so they have had a good few days rest and now we will get ourselves ready for this weekend’s game, which is going to be crucial.
“They should be happy with what they have done; they have had a rest to get them back into a state of mind and a physical state where they are more than ready to go again.
“We haven’t given them any information up until this point about the game for Saturday. I think that is just as important as physical rest; we do give them quite a lot of detail about how we are going to play and what problems the opposition are going to pose, so mentally they have to take a lot of information on board, so sometimes it is good to give them a few days break from that and so we have given them that and hopefully now they are ready to go.”
The manager took the opportunity to see his opponents at the weekend at first hand on Wednesday night, travelling down to Pride Park to see Neil Harris’ Lions overcome Derby County thanks to Jed Wallace’s second half strike.
And he was impressed by what he saw: “Naturally they went and made it difficult. There wasn’t a lot in the game. Both teams only had one shot on target; Millwall scored with theirs and Derby didn’t have a shot on target until the 92nd minute, so it certainly wasn’t action-packed.
“Millwall had a good shape, a good structure and were hard to break down and they will be pleased that they got the three points. It alleviates a little bit of pressure on them and hopefully this game will be a good game and, from our point of view, hopefully has more action in the final third areas.
“They have options and they have experience as well. It is always a difficult game against Millwall. If you look at their games across the season, even when they have lost, they have not been battered by anyone, it is normally by the odd goal.
“They will always make it difficult and always be in the game and you have to make sure that you concentrate for the 90 minutes.
“They will want to finish the season strongly. To replicate [the run they had last season] for any team is difficult, but they have shown they are capable and within that spell they were the type of team you didn’t want to face. We are on a good run at the moment – seven games unbeaten; we have been playing well and our performance levels have been excellent and we have to try and ensure that is the same this weekend,” he added.