Preston North End manager is looking forward to locking horns with a former manager as his side takes on Swansea City at Deepdale this Saturday – the Lilywhites’ first home league game of 2019.
The PNE gaffer had the Swans’ No.2 Billy Reid as his manager at Hamilton, Graham Potter’s assistant taking Alex back north of the border from Mansfield back in 2005.
And now that Reid has continued his excellent working relationship with Potter, the two having performed miracles at Ostersunds before returning to the UK at the Liberty Stadium, North End’s boss has kept a close eye on their progress.
“It is always interesting when you have worked with somebody before and they go elsewhere; you always keep an eye on how they are doing,” he told iFollow PNE, as he looked forward to the game.
“Swansea have had a season of transition. They have come down from the Premier League and you can see what Graham and Billy are trying to do there – introducing a lot of younger players and changing their style of play – trying to build from the ground up, if you like.
“They are a really dangerous team. They are a good side, with good players in their squad and some of the performances they have put in this season show they are the type of team that can show up and really damage you and we have to make sure that we are at our best.
“Whenever you come down from the Premier League, you have some quality players in your squad, but I think what you have to do is to try and change the momentum and change the mindset and Graham has done a good job of that. He has got the mentality right, got some young, hungry players in there and linked that with the experience and quality they already had. They have a lot of guys who have operated in the Premier League, so we have our work cut out for us.
“What we have to concentrate on doing is playing as well as we can, because our form in the league, at home, has been relatively good in the way that we have performed.”
His own team selections have been hampered by injury and suspension for pretty much the entire campaign.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Brandon Barker, Sean Maguire, Alan Browne and Josh Earl all returned to the squad for last weekend’s Emirates FA Cup tie. Ben Pearson is now free of suspension and all four of his January transfer window acquisitions – Josh Ginnelly, Jayden Stockley, Brad Potts and latest recruit, keeper Connor Ripley – will all be available this weekend.
The manager says that his side’s style and their pressing game have though been made more difficult by not having a consistency of selection, an impossibility with all the issues the squad has faced.
“The pressing side of our game has been difficult to keep consistent this year because of the fluctuation of personnel,” Alex explained.
“Last year, the lads who did it were fairly consistent, in terms of playing, and even some of the new lads we just had to blend in one or two, which made it quite easy. This year we have had to do that with five or six, and some of them are young lads, so it has been quite tough.
“The problem we have is that normally if you have someone at the top end who can spearhead it and knows what they are they doing, the rest can work and feed off that, but this year what we have tried to do is use a younger player to trigger that off and the rest behind it have been fairly inexperienced as well.
“It has certainly been harder to get that right this year. We have seen signs of late that it is getting better and hopefully, once we get some work into the new additions, it will improve again over the next few weeks.”
But whilst those numbers are now bolstered, the Lilywhites chief says that patience will be a key virtue over the next few weeks, as the new players bed themselves in and those returning from absences build up their match sharpness.
“What it does is to give us more options. We have a lot of work to get into the new lads. They have come from a different level, so they are going to adapt to that, they have also had to move and relocate here.
“Sometimes you sign somebody and they fit like a glove and hit the ground running – and we hope that is going to be the case with all of them – but we don’t want to make snap judgements on people. We want to make sure we give them enough time and enough work to get themselves ready, so they can show the best of themselves.
“It is really important that we get behind them and show them some support.
“For the lads coming back as well, it is a similar story. Seani came back last year and really hit the ground running; that can’t always be the case. Sean has missed about nine months of the last year and half, so he has been out for a long time on the injury table. We hope we can get him back with a good run of games and get him back to sharpness.”