Preston North End manager Alex Neil is looking forward to the 2019/20 Championship season, but is expecting a tough opening day fixture.
He takes his Lilywhites to the capital to face Neil Harris’ Millwall at The Den on Saturday afternoon and admitted to iFollow PNE that he was pleased the competitive matches had arrived.
“You look forward to it with excitement, a little bit of trepidation; you are always hoping it is going to go as well as you like and it is a difficult first game for us, away from home,” said the gaffer.
“Everyone wants to get into the season. Once you get into the rhythm and get the games started, it is great. When you are playing for nothing, it doesn’t have the same edge, when it does when it is proper league matches.”
After 2018/19 was beset by injuries and suspensions, the North End boss has been delighted to get through pre-season pretty unscathed and hopes that continues as the campaign gets underway.
“We spoke regularly last season about being injury free and we have a full squad training [on Wednesday], which is great and we don’t really have any concerns in terms of people carrying knocks and niggles,” he continued.
“It is always good to have a full squad to choose from, it makes my job so much easier. I can put the strongest possible team for the particular game out; it also makes it more difficult, because I am having to leave good players out, which is always tough, but that is the nature of the job.
“You can only pick 11 and seven subs. Everyone has had five weeks to put their best self forward to try and get involved.”
The weekend’s first opponents of the season have been busy with their summer recruitment and although Alex and his team picked up a positive result back in February, he knows it will be difficult at The Den.
“You can play a team 100 times and every single one of them will be very different. We just need to go and try and put a very good performance in this game. The last game won’t have any bearing on it.
“It is going to be a tough match. The intensity is going to be high and it is going to be very competitive – we are expecting a difficult game.
“The first thing you have to do going to a place like Millwall, is to compete. You have to pick up second balls, win your tackles, win your headers and make sure that you are in the game.
“It will be a tough match. We know how Millwall play; I don’t think there will be any surprises from them to us and likewise, they will be well prepped for what we can do, we are just hoping that on the day we can go there and perform well.
“Neil has strengthened really well. The proof will be how well they do this season, but the lads they have brought in really suit the way they play and they will be a threat and we have to make sure that we manage that threat.
“I am sure they will be confident going into the game, it will just be a case of who can impose their style onto the match and dominate and if we can do that we will feel we can have the nest chance of winning the game and if they do, then likewise.”
But with over 1,000 already sold, the manager hopes to give the travelling support a positive memory to start 2019/20: “Our away form was better than our home form last season. We had a lot of memorable games on the road where we played very well and we are hoping to try and start off in a similar vein in this game.
“Their support is really welcome and hopefully they are in fine voice and we can put in a good performance for them,” he added.