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First Team News

Alex Neil Reflects On Busy Transfer Window

2 February 2021

The transfer window close for the 2020/21 season at 11pm on Monday night, with manager Alex ending the month with eight different players to what he started the year with.

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The PNE boss saw the octet arrive, with a further eight leaving, either on loan or on permanent deals and now, with four months of the season to go, he admits he is looking forward to seeing what they are capable of, as well as testing himself.

“I have got to see what I am capable of as well,” he told iFollow PNE. “I have to mould a lot of new players at the one time at different stages of their career in terms of what their aspirations are and what they are trying to do and I have to make sure that I get the right balance with them.

“But equally, it is a big challenge for them; most of them have either not played at the level or played a limited time at the level and they have to make sure that they get their game in order as quickly as possible and show everybody what they can do.

“It is exciting. For the fans, they want to see new players, a different way of playing or something new, so we have a big challenge on our hands and we are looking forward to it.”

Reflecting on January business, he said that some had been part of the long-term planning and others were reactive to what was going on: “There are two players that we didn’t expect to lose; one being Ben Davies,” he explained. “A lot was suggested that it was set up, but I can assure everybody that we didn’t know anything about it until the day of the transfer and it all just came upon us.

“Naturally, we were looking at alternatives, because in football things can happen that you don’t expect, so we made sure that we had as much cover as possible. We weren’t at a stage where we could really do any permanents, because it got thrust on us so quickly and equally, to get a left-sider, left-footed, who has played at the level, on loan, isn’t particularly easy.

“So, we had our work cut out. It has been good that we have been able to get bodies in. I knew this day was coming, I have been very vocal about it for a period of time and hopefully now the fans can see what I was talking about, because it was really quite clear.”

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Of that dream move to Anfield, the gaffer couldn’t have been happier for the defender: “It’s incredible. I am so pleased for him,” he continued. “There are only a handful of clubs that we would have actively let Ben go to, because he was so important to us between now and the end of the season.

“Equally, him walking out of the door for nothing would have been a travesty for us, so the fact we have got some money in for him is good.

“The opportunity and the chance to go to the World champions was something dreams are made of. Ben came through the Academy here; I worked with him for four seasons and he really has transformed as a person and a player and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

The signings all bring different qualities and the PNE boss believes his re-shaped squad has plenty of potential, something he says they now have to prove.

“What we have got is guys who have got massive potential. We have got a few guys who have been at the level before, so they know what is required and we have players who are long-term replacements for players that we currently have. Have we brought in good players? Yes, of course we have, but what we need to do is give those players time.

“What they are not going to be is to be as prepared as the lads who have left, because they had been playing together for three seasons and they were proven at the level. For us to gel the rest of the players that we have brought in will take a bit of time.

“I have been saying that it transitional season and I always worried where we would be when the bulk of the players left who were going to be leaving us, but I think that where we find ourselves is in a good position in comparison to what it could have been.”

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The recruitment process is something that is continual, as he explains, with the monitoring of players like deadline-beating attacker Anthony Gordon, something ongoing for a long time: “Football is funny, because Anthony was a player I saw a year and a half ago. Peter [Ridsdale] and I were at a Wigan versus Everton game and we were actually there to watch Wigan, because we had them in the first couple of games of the season and he stood out like a sore thumb to me.

“He played off the left and I thought he was the best player on the pitch. I actually looked his name up at the game and I said to Peter – and he was only 17 at the time - I said ‘Anthony Gordon, he’s going to be a cracker, he’ll be a really good player’ and I have kept track of him ever since.

“We have been given the opportunity to get him on loan and I think it is a great bit of business. He has the potential to go on and do big things and hopefully we can see that development while he is here.”

Two free midweeks allows the manager to work with the signings and the rest of his squad before the arrival of Rotherham United to Deepdale and then the live televised local derby against Blackburn Rovers, a benefit he is grateful of.

“It gives us two things; it gives us time for the players to get to know each other, which is so important,” he said. “Today we had an 11v11 to give them an opportunity to assess what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are, what they like to do and what they don’t like to do so much and equally, as this week develops we will start to add more and more tactical aspects to the game in terms of what we would expect and what.

“Today really was just to see them in the flesh, so see what they are comfortable doing, to see what I deem their strengths would be and then I can start to add layers to that in terms of how I am going to add to those strengths.

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“Everything is always a balance. We have to assess where the lads’ strengths lie and maybe where their weaknesses lie. There are certain players where you can allow them an element of freedom to get the best out of them and others, who want information as much as possible – they want to know who they are playing against, what is their strength or their weakness, what do they need to do and how do they hurt them and depending on the individual that information becomes relevant or not.

“What we have got is a young hungry ground and this second half of the season is going to be a real test for them. They are going to have to step up to the mark and I think it will be a really interesting second half of the season, but we need to give some of these lads time; they are not going to be 100 per cent at it from the get go, we will need a little bit of time to bed them in,” he added.

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