Preston North End manager Alex Neil will name a strong side for his team’s Emirates FA Cup tie at Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday.
The Lilywhites boss takes his team to Adams Park for a third round game for the second time in his Deepdale tenure, but he knows it is a very different Chairboys outfit to the one that succumbed 5-1 to PNE on January 6th 2018.
“They are very different now; they have moved on significantly from that spell and are in the same division of us and it is going to be a tough game,” he told iFollow PNE.
“The first match [in the league in December] was a tough game; I think we started particularly well and then we lost Ben [Pearson], which changed the tide of the game a little bit.
“They have been very competitive recently, have picked up a couple of really good results and being played at their home makes it even tougher.
“People think we haven’t done a lot, but we have actually evolved a lot since I first came in. Although key elements of the squad are still the same, the players around that are very different to what they were then.
“I think we have moved forward. Naturally, there is some that you lose that you wouldn’t want to lose and then there are others that you try and upgrade as best you can as you go along.
“We are in decent shape. We have been speaking this season about a transitional year and we are in the amidst of that at the moment – you can see that this window – and I always knew this was coming.
“The fans are now hoping to realise that this is the case and with everything taken into account so far this season, I think we have done alright to be where we are right now, I am quite content with that.”
Both sides have already been active in the window, with Gareth Ainsworth adding Leicester City striker Admiral Muskwe to his numbers ahead of the game.
“We looked at the lad before about potentially taking him at some point, so I think he will be a good acquisition for them,” continued Alex.
“I am sure that most teams at this time of year are doing their utmost to strengthen their squads.
“You don’t really know with the cup what to expect. Some teams go and make a lot of changes, some teams put their strongest team out; I think it depends on injuries and things like that as well.
“We will go with a strong team. We want to win the game, that’s for definite and the last result, against Forest, didn’t sit well with me – we didn’t even deserve to draw that game, we certainly deserved to win it, so we want to make sure we bounce back and go and win this one.”
The North End gaffer himself has already been active in the market and says that new recruit Jayson Molumby will definitely be involved in the game after he received governing body clearance, but anyone selected will have a chance to put a case forward to play against at Bristol City the following Saturday.
“Jayson is 21, he’s an Irish international player, he spent a full season in the Championship last year; the team he was at were desperate to get him back, there were other teams in the Championship who were desperate for him and we have managed to secure him.
“You know what you are getting with Jayson. He is a good player, he is mobile, he is aggressive and he is a proper winner. He will settle nicely into what we do here and he will definitely feature in the match.
“If you play and you play as well as you can and you walk off the pitch having won and been excellent, then naturally it would only be right that I would be looking and thinking he has got to play [at Bristol City].
“What you can’t have as a player is any excuses after that. You have to go on the pitch and show what you can do. Your opportunity is there for everyone to see, to show ‘I am going to go and control this game and win the game and be the best player on the pitch’ and off the back of that, there is no reason why you shouldn’t get a run in the team.
“This year, more than any other, players who have done well for us have kept their space. Josh Earl played four or five on the bounce, Gally did the same and Brad Potts and Ryan Ledson have been similar, so there is chances and opportunities for everyone to go and show what they can do.”
This year’s Emirates FA Cup could be a different one, with many bigger teams set for rotation, plus the impact of the pandemic, so does Alex think there could be a few surprises, with a big chance for a lesser club to make a big push?
“I think potentially [there is an opportunity], because you hear a lot of the top teams in the Premier League talking about how they are having to rotate their squads and having injuries, albeit when they are rotating their squads, they are putting international players in, not U23 players, so you are still dealing with a proper side.
“But there is no reason why teams can’t go quite far – you saw Brentford in the semi-final of the League Cup against Tottenham this week, so there are opportunities for team there,” he added.
The game is being shown live on FA Player – click here for more information or to sign up for a free account to watch the Lilywhites in action against a team led by former North End winger Gareth Ainsworth.