PNE manager Alex Neil will be hoping that his side can secure their first victory of 2019 as they travel to Loftus Road this weekend to take on Queens Park Rangers.
The Lilywhites were victorious over QPR on the opening day of the season at Deepdale as Alan Browne scored the only goal in a 1-0 win, but Steve McLaren’s side strengthened later on in the summer window and have since turned their season around after a difficult start.
The gaffer told iFollow PNE that the experienced additions QPR made in the summer have contributed to a good run of form, including a recent six game unbeaten run which was ended by Sheffield United last weekend.
But the manager doesn’t believe there is a huge difference between the two sides except in the injury department. North End were left very short on numbers over the Christmas period with several players nursing injuries.
“I wouldn’t say they are that far different in terms of personnel. I think what they’ve done is, they’ve gone and added real experience throughout their team from that stage.
“They’ve gone and got [Tomer] Hemed from Brighton, Nakhi Wells from Burnley; Geoff Cameron has come in as well. So, I think what they’ve done is bolstered numbers in terms of getting experience in, a little bit of know-how just to steady the ground if you like and get the squad surrounded by guys who have been there and done it so that’s certainly helped them.
“I’d say the significant difference between both squads at the moment is the fact that for the majority of the season they’ve managed to keep most of their players fit whereas our injury crisis has been well documented.”
Experienced players can be a vital ingredient for any squad and the Lilywhites have players such as Paul Gallagher and Tom Clarke who can provide the knowledge to help the younger players in the squad.
QPR are currently without some of their more experienced players as Hemed, Cameron and Angel Rangel will miss Saturday’s clash and the boss spoke about how influential these types of players can be during various periods in the season.
“Football is strange in the way that when you’ve got the experienced players to start with and you can create a bit of momentum, they’re crucial,” he added.
“When the momentum is already there, and you can take a few of them out, it's amazing but the younger lads can really keep that momentum going and they can keep performing well.
“I think it’s when you need to change the tide or you need to change a negative momentum, experience is absolutely vital at that stage because what they don’t do is, they don’t get carried away.
"They don’t start doing things that they shouldn’t, try to repair things that are unnecessary, they just stay steady. They churn it out, they’ve done it for years and years and that calmness and composure is crucial at those stages.
“They’ll be at a stage now where they’ll want to finish the second half of the season strongly. We need to go down there and hopefully try and replicate the result that we got against them the last time but it will be a tough match. They are a team full of confidence at the moment.”
North End hosted Salford City in a behind closed door friendly this week which gave players coming back from injury and those who have not had much game time recently a chance to get some minutes under their belt. New signings Josh Ginnelly and Connor Ripley also featured.
The boss admitted that while North End’s training is very intense it doesn’t compare to the demands of a matchday. Midfielder Ben Pearson is one of the players back in contention and he made his return from his four game suspension last weekend. Neil explained that it takes time for players to get back up to speed when they have missed crucial game time.
“I think it’s important we get our players back as quickly as possible. Ben Pearson, this will be his second game back which is good. I thought he looked a little bit rusty in his last game in terms of he’s not played for weeks."
“In that period, he has trained really hard. We’ve had him in most days and worked him really quite hard but it never really replicates getting your distances right between players.
“Particularly, when we train the lads know what is coming because they’ve played against each other so often so they know their strengths and weaknesses of each other so they can nick those yards.
“When you are playing against somebody fresh who maybe you only play against twice a season, you can’t pre-empt what they’re going to do. You need to deal with how they are going to behave on the ball as it happens rather than having an idea of what’s coming.”
North End have won their last two fixtures at Loftus Road including a 2-1 win last April. The ground is a throwback with fans very close to the pitch which can create a fierce atmosphere. Neil is hoping that the PNE fans can add to the atmosphere and rally the players on to a third successive away victory over QPR.
“It’s one of the old-fashioned grounds where the fans are right on top of you. If their tails are up and they’re doing well it can be really quite noisy,” Alex continued.
“The last time we went there our fans were great. They were behind the goal. I think we scored the winning goal down at their side so we are really hopeful that they will be in fine voice as they always are, and we can try and hopefully replicate the type of performance and result there the last time.”
Watch the full interview with the gaffer on iFollow PNE now.