Preston North End manager Alex Neil says his side must take the responsibility to move the ball well and create opportunities as they face Aitor Karanka’s Birmingham City at Deepdale on Saturday.
The Blues appointed the former Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest manager in the summer and they come to Deepdale after a late winner against Huddersfield Town in midweek.
Speaking to iFollow PNE the gaffer admitted he had a lot of respect for his opposite number: “I have got a lot of history with Aitor and I have a lot of respect for him; I think he is a very good coach and he is doing a good job with Birmingham at the moment.
“It is going to be a tough game. Defensively Birmingham will be solid, they will look to hit you in transition, they have good pace off the flanks and they have a good target man.
“Whether they go with Jutkiewicz to take it in and try and build up the pitch, or whether they go with Hogan to try and stretch it in behind, equally, it is going to be another challenging game.
“The onus will be on us to try and move the ball well and try and get an opportunity and opportunities to score the first goal and then try and go and win the game.”
The second city side went through a period of transition over the summer with the manager’s appointment and Alex feels he has recruited well and expects a tough test.
“Aitor has gone in and put a bit of his stamp on them. He has brought in [Adam] Clayton, George [Friend], who he knows and has worked with before and who both add experience and good quality to them,” he continued.
“He brought in the goalkeeper from Cardiff as well [Neil Etheridge] and Birmingham are a team who over the last couple of seasons have strengthened in certain areas.
“[Ivan] Šunjić cost them a lot of money, [Kristian] Pedersen cost them a lot of money, the two centre backs they bought from different teams, so they have got good players, but Aitor is trying to find at the moment what is the best solution for them.
“They got a good result in the last game, against Huddersfield, and I watched them against Norwich and they were a bit unfortunate. We know it is going to be a tough match, but there aren’t any easy matches in the Championship.”
A lot of the talk in the manager’s pre-match press conference was about formations and coming up against different strategies and the PNE boss said there were two camps at the moment in terms of the way teams were approaching games.
“It is dependent on what options you have in your players, but it is also about what your strategy is. Is your strategy to, first and foremost, try not to concede and let’s see what happens; or is your strategy to try and go and win the game and be expansive.
“I think there is quite a divide in the league at the moment. There are a large batch of teams whose initial outlay is to try and be defensively solid and try and get a goal in transition and there are the teams who are expansive and set out to win the games.
“The solution isn’t difficult to come up with; it is having the tools to then implement that solution. The teams that we normally have to break down, we normally like to build from the back and play through them, because they give you the ball and you can work that space.
“We have been without some of our better ball players, which has made it tough, so that becomes more difficult and then you have decide if you want to go longer, but that then becomes a bit of a scrap.
“We understand what we are trying to do, but when you are trying to do that, you have to play well. If you have lads who don’t perform as well as they can, or they are not feeling well – which was the case in the last game – it can be harder to deliver,” he added.
There is a lot more from the manager, as he discusses training, the intensity of the run of games, the recent illness and more, just click on the video at the top of the page.
You can watch the Lilywhites in action on Saturday live on iFollow PNE, with former PNE winger Ross Wallace joining Jonathan Breeze in the Deepdale commentary box, click here now to sign up for a match pass for just £10 for four camera coverage, replays and graphics.