Preston North End welcome Dean Holden’s Bristol City and the Sky Sports cameras for their final EFL Championship game before Christmas on Friday night.
The Lilywhites face their ninth game in 28 days and manager Alex Neil is well aware of the strains it is having on his squad, where he is having to manage them to try and avoid burn out and too many serious injuries.
Speaking to iFollow PNE ahead of the Robins’ visit, he said: “It has been a tough period for the lads in terms of the demands put on them. Naturally, you need to utilise the squad, which we have done, but there are some players in there when they are fit that we need them on the pitch, because they are key elements of our team.
“A lot of them have done extremely well to get to this point without picking any injuries up. Many of them have gone onto the pitch with niggles, fatigue and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), but it is the same for a lot of the clubs.
“It has been as tough for the players as I can ever remember physically.
“Scott [Sinclair] got a kick on his calf against Luton and has been carrying a little bit of a niggle with his hip and because I was going for a front two and changing shape it suited me to rest him with a few games coming up.
“He has been our top scorer this year and the last thing I wanted to do was drop him out when we play in a manner that I think suits him, but when we are changing shape and style, it gave me an ideal opportunity to give him a bit of respite, because the last thing I can afford to do is to lose somebody who has been so threatening for us.
“The difficulty is that only you as a manager is aware of the inner workings and the dynamics of the players and the club and I am sure if everyone else was privy to that information, they would probably make the same choices – but that is not how it works.
“I have to do what is right for the team, what is right for the individuals themselves and what is right for the club to go and try and get a result.”
Holden took charge of City on a permanent basis over the summer and has had a positive first part of the season, with the side pushing around the Play-Off places and the PNE boss says their summer acquisitions have added an extra level of knowhow to the team.
“Lee’s [Johnson] side last season, they fluctuated from 4-3-3 to 3-5-2 and that has been quite common this season, so they could play either shape,” he continued. “They have also added well, they have added experience.
“They brought Chris Brunt, who has probably not played as much as they would have anticipated or liked, but they probably brought him in for his experience, his presence and his knowhow of getting out of the league.
“Chris Martin has been a great acquisition for them as well and he has done very well. They are a strong squad; they have assembled a squad over a number of years, it has not been flung together and the best way I can describe them, is that they are a danger. They have got goals in their team; they like to play and when I have watched them - whether or not they have played well in the game – they are capable of scoring a goal at any time.
“What they have got, which is very different to us, is the lads they are tapping into – like the younger players they are tapping into this year – have all spent time out in the Football League playing. Tyler Moore was at Blackpool, Tyreeq Bakinson was at Plymouth, [Antonie] Semenyo was at Sunderland and [Zak] Vyner was at Rotherham, so they have all been out and sampled it, they are not coming in cold; they have got strength of depth in their squad and experience in their squad and if you are to mount a serious challenge, that is vital.”
The game will be played in front of a worldwide TV audience, but without fans and without crowd noise, which can’t be used when the TV games are played, giving the manager and the team something else to think about.
“Normally when the fans are there and the Sky cameras are there, you can feel the atmosphere more. My experience so far is that when they are there with no fans, it makes no difference.
“There will be no atmosphere, because we are not able to use our crowd noise, so that will be another challenge for us.
“It is what it is and I am sure the lads will want to put on a good show and we will do our utmost to do that,” he added.
On Friday night we will still have iFollow PNE available for ‘option 1’ season ticket holders and overseas supporters – and Jonathan Breeze and Paul McKenna will be on air from 7.30pm – just click here to check if a match pass is available in your region.