Alex Neil described Preston North End’s trip to Huddersfield Town as a ‘heavyweight’ clash and was pleased to see his side come out on top of the high tempo contest with a 2-1 win at the John Smith’s Stadium.
The gaffer made a change to a back three late in the day to match up the Terriers’ own shape, and although Frazier Campbell gave the home side an early lead, the switch in shape proved a positive one, with Alan Browne’s brace winning it for PNE in the second half.
Speaking to iFollow PNE post-match, while not expecting Huddersfield to line up in the manner they did, Alex was always prepared for an end-to-end affair given the aggressive approach his side deployed to face up to Carlos Corberán’s men.
“I think that Huddersfield probably won’t come across anyone that plays against them we do,” said Alex. “The way I described it to the players was it’s like two heavyweights going toe-to-toe and whoever lands their punches is going to win because it’s sort of man for man all over the pitch; both teams have got a spare player at the back.
“It’s like two heavyweights going toe-to-toe – if you back down, you’re going to get knocked out. We wanted to land the killer punch and we just lacked that little bit of detail, quality, whatever you want to call it at the end to finish it off, but I thought we should have made it more comfortable for ourselves.
“We won the game, we deserved to win the game, we should have won it easier in the end I think. Huddersfield are never going to make it easy for you, even with ten men, because what they did, they went 3-3-3, but they put three players on each flank, which means what shape do you play to match that up? It was really difficult because they want the ball and they want to try and damage you as much as they can.
“I thought we were totally the dominant side in terms of territory, chances. I thought our press was good, albeit the played through it on occasions, but yeah, I was pleased.”
The manager explained his thinking in changing to a back three, and how he had been disappointed that that forced Alan Browne wide – although he still managed to score the match-winning brace.
“I’ve changed it right before the game because I didn’t expect him to play that way, they haven’t played that way unless they play against a front two, they take the same mantra as what happened at Leeds and that certainly threw a spanner in the works.
“When you change anything before the game, it always takes the players five, ten minutes to fix it, albeit I didn’t think it was the shape that caused them a problem, it was the aggression, it was taking responsibility on the ball, and then for whatever reason as soon as the goal went in, all of a sudden we started being more aggressive, we started matching better, we started moving the ball better.
“Changing the shape, I had one thing I wasn’t happy with that I had to do was put Alan into a wide area. I felt as if I needed his energy in there, however I felt he was the best guy to deal with [Harry] Toffolo down that side.
“I’ve worked with Harry, he’s really good energy, really good legs, he gets forward, causes problems and I just felt Alan was the best guy suited to do that. Thankfully, he came up trumps, scored us a couple of goals. Alan’s one of those lads I can just ask him to play in any position for me and he gives his all and he’s been an absolute stalwart for me since I’ve been here.”
With North End now having won three of their last four, the gaffer added that he feels his side has never been lacking in confidence but pointed out how the arrival of Emil Riis had made a difference.
“Emil for me has been terrific since he’s come in. Two games, he leads the line, he’s strong, he’s powerful, we can rely on the ball sticking, he can wriggle away from people himself, he sets things up, he has opportunities – I don’t think you can ask much more from him.
“We’ve only done a few days’ training, he’s still finding his feet, so to serve up what he’s done in the last two matches, he deserves a huge amount of credit for that.
“That’s us now won three out of four games and it’s funny how football flips because obviously we wouldn’t have been happy with not winning. I think now we’ve won three out of four, I think we’ve done well in that respect, I think Emil’s certainly made a big difference to us and I think the lads that have come into the team have certainly stepped up so huge credit to them.”
Watch more from Alex on iFollow PNE.