Preston North End manager Alex Neil looked ahead to the weekend’s clash with Stoke City, but began by calling for help for smaller clubs, who will struggle after the cancellation of pilot events to get fans back.
After articles by the likes of Colchester United chairman Robbie Cowling – who wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson - and Rochdale chief executive who spoke strongly on the subject on Sky Sports, the North End boss feels something has to be examined to try and allow fans to return safely.
“Football us getting battered at the moment, in terms of financially, and that is all the leagues,” he told iFollow PNE. “The further down you go, it will be the most damaging. Those clubs work week to week for the gate receipts to then go and do what they are trying to do.
“I think, from the National League downwards, they are talking about that if they don’t get fans back, they can’t commence playing and I wouldn’t be surprised if they then go their players and say ‘because we are not playing, we can’t afford to pay you’, and then they literally become redundant at that point.
“I am not sure what we do with that; it is really, really damaging.
“All the clubs from the Championship downwards, if the fans don’t come back, we are going to see a disaster on our hands.
“What the government, in my opinion, need to do, is that if you can go to a pub until ten o’clock – which is generally indoors – in groups of six, then I don’t know why you can’t go outdoors and be spaced apart.
“Even just 1,000 fans in the stadium will give clubs a lift. They need something to survive these clubs, and I am very hopeful that there is a plan put together to make this work.”
On the football, the Lilywhites gaffer went to see Stoke City in action last weekend, at home to Bristol City, and can see the imprint of manager Michael O’Neill’s ideas and ethos in the Potters.
“They are a strong side,” he continued. “Everybody last season looked at their squad and questioned why they were at the bottom end of the table. When Michael [O’Neill] went in, he turned their fortunes around - his record was very good.
“He made them hard to beat, first and foremost and he has some good quality players. A lot of them have played in the Premier League or have certainly been promoted from this division into the Premier League, so they have got the knowhow and they have added in the summer as well.
“Steven Fletcher is a good threat at this level; the lad [Jacob] Brown from Barnsley, I think, is a good signing; he stretches the game in behind and is direct; Mikel has come in in the middle of the park – and he is a Champions League winner – so, they are not struggling for quality.
“We have always equipped ourselves well against them. The last time we played them, at their place, we were poor for about 60 minutes and then I thought we made a change – Nuge came on and changed the game in our favour and Gally came on and produced a couple of great set pieces that we scored from.
“I would describe them as a ‘stuffy team’. They don’t let you play; they are not easy to play against, they are really difficult. They have adopted a 3-5-2 shape this season from what I have seen so far, so it is going to be a tough match, but so is every game at this level and we will need to play well in order to win.
“If you look at their back three, it goes Danny Batth, [Bruno] Martins Indi – who is a Dutch international – and James Chester – who got promoted with Villa – so they have got experience and they have got quality, there’s no questions about that and [Michael] has taken his principles from Northern Ireland and implemented then again, albeit in a different formation, but the strategy is still the same – hard to beat, difficult to break down and then capitalise when going forward.
“They get crosses into the box and have really good technical players in the middle of the park and we need to focus on trying to put another good performance together.”
Whilst the manager is disappointed that his side won’t be hosting Manchester United this coming week, he feels that it is important they get their league form moving positively forward, starting with three points on Saturday.
“The Carabao Cup is important, but it can’t for me be to the detriment of the league campaign.
“We want to get off to as good a start as we can; we know we have really tough fixtures in the first six or seven matches and we want to get that first three points on the board, that is really important to us.
“We performed well in the cup, we performed really well at Norwich last weekend and we need to go and do it again – this game is an important game for us.
“The lads that played last Saturday and didn’t play in midweek will benefit from the rest. We want to hit those physical markers each game, because I am a big believer that if we do that well enough, because you need to run with and without the ball, then we can hit those markers and that gives us a good opportunity to go and win the game.
“I thought the fans made a big difference. Although it was their fans, I thought having an atmosphere made a big difference. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen now, but we need to try and recreate that again for ourselves going into the game,” he added.
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