Alex Neil said Preston North End showed ‘everything it takes’ to win games against the Championship’s top sides with a superb 3-2 triumph over AFC Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium
It was another excellent display on the road, and Alex even hailed it as such himself, picking up a fifth away win of the 2020/21 SkyBet Championship campaign after surging into a three-goal lead with Tom Barkhuizen, Scott Sinclair and Patrick Bauer on target.
Junior Stanislas and Sam Surridge pegged goals back late on to set-up a tense finish, but the visitors held out for the three points, much to the gaffer’s delight.
“We showed everything that it takes to win games against top opposition at this level,” Alex told iFollow PNE post-match.
“I think it’s been well documented before the game about how long they haven’t been beaten at home, so it was really pleasing to come here and we needed a win.
“We know some of our form, certainly at home, hasn’t been the best. I’ve always said and I’ll continue to say, and it was proven again tonight, when we get most of our players back, we win games, it really is as simple as that.
“The performance was excellent. It took a really good free-kick to be fair to them to give them a chance.
“I didn’t really see the second goal coming for them to be honest, I thought we were well in control, moved the ball well, and then they just get down the side of us that once, put a cross in and then when that second one comes, it gets a bit nervous towards the end.
“I was reluctant to make changes to that point because sometimes when you make changes it works against you because you’re not used to shutting those gaps and filling those hills. As soon as the second one went in, I thought we needed to freshen it up and get across the line for a well-deserved three points.”
All three North End goals were converted in style; Barkhuizen’s opener the final touch of a slick counter attack, Sinclair’s second half strike one that oozed class as he lobbed Asmir Begovic from 40 yards, and Bauer’s finish rounding off a well-executed set-piece routine.
Daniel Johnson was back in the No.10 role and claimed two assists, while Sean Maguire shone in the lone striker’s role and set up the other for Sinclair, with Alex delighted by the many fine individual displays across the frontline in particular.
“What we did tonight was went about it in a different manner at the top end of the pitch and I thought it really suited the personnel. Individuallly, I thought they put in some very, very good performances and collectively I thought we were very strong.
“There were some excellent performances individually and I thought Sean Maguire was right up there for us. He played in the spaces great, he understood his role, he worked extremely hard as he always does, he kept it alive and he gave us a platform to get up the pitch.
“When you’ve got that, the rest of the lads can then build their self into the game. We then have the threat and pace off the sides with Scott and Tom. At 3-0, I thought we were well worth that at that point.
“The fact is when you’re trying to build your team, you need platforms at the back that can take the ball and build and puncture, play through the lines and get your technical players high up the pitch in good areas.
“When we get that balance, with [Ben Davies] Davo coming back in with his left foot, with [Ben Pearson] Pearo in there balanced with Ryan [Ledson], I think we’ve got a really good balance behind it; we can puncture, we can play forward, we can find our technical players high up the pitch in good areas and I felt we did that all night and that’s why DJ flourished.”
There were bittersweet emotions at full-time though as Alex confirmed that the injury suffered by Bauer in injury time will keep him out for the rest of the season.
“I think the lads and everybody connected with us is gutted for big Pat,” added Alex. “He had a really good game tonight.
“I didn’t actually see it, I just saw him making distress signals that he needed to come off. I actually thought it was his knee, but to find out it could potentially be his Achilles, is obviously really worrying and I’m devastated for him as you would expect.”
Watch more from Alex on iFollow PNE.