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First Team News

Alex Neil: “The Challenge Is Very Different”

4 March 2021

Preston North End manager Alex Neil believes the contrast between Saturday’s visitors AFC Bournemouth and Tuesday’s trip to Millwall is a prime example of the dichotomy of the Championship.

First Team News

Watch PNE vs AFC Bournemouth On iFollow PNE

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The Lilywhites boss said that his side will face the antithesis of the Lions when Jonathan Woodgate’s Cherries arrive at Deepdale and that his side will need to find different answers to the questions posed by their promotion-chasing opponents.

Speaking to iFollow PNE, he also admitted that, as the last of seven games in 22 days, he will have to think carefully about the team selection: “The challenge is very different and the set of the problems we are going to be presented with, with and without the ball, are going to be very different as well,” he said.

“We can’t read too much into the last game, because the solutions for the last game, will not be the solutions for this game.

“We need to take a view on the team as well; we have a lot of players who have played a lot of minutes recently and it is a big challenge for us. We will see how everyone is and then we will go from there.”

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Woodgate replaced Jason Tindall last month and has added the experience and nous of Joe Jordan to his backroom staff in the last fortnight, but it is minor changes from their previous manager that Alex has noticed in the last few weeks.

“They can fluctuate their shape and they have a lot of strength in depth – you just have to look at the players that are not playing to see what they have got,” he continued. “Their ambitions are to make sure they solidify that top six spot, which will be tough, because there are a lot of teams vying for it.

“We know it is going to be a tough game, it was a tough game down there. We played, arguably, as well as we have played all season down there to get that victory and I think it is going to take a similar performance from us.

“I wouldn’t say it has changed much. There will be a couple of bits where maybe they press a little bit differently, the personnel might be slightly different or they might stay with a shape more than they did before, but it is the same players, so they have the same traits.

“When it comes to this stage of the season, having been at a club in a similar mode to what Bournemouth currently are, these players start to click, because they know how important these games are.

“If you are at one of these big clubs that if you don’t get into one of those top spots, the likelihood is that, as a player, you are not going to last long and they will be aware of that.”

The gaffer referenced the excellent performance at the Vitality Stadium at the beginning of December, however, he was also made note of the fact that since that date, with injuries and player turnover, the squad has a very different look to it.

“Out of the team that started at Bournemouth [back in December], just one player – Scott Sinclair – started the game the other night and you need to pay attention to that, as it is not normal to play against a team and then the next time you play them to be so different.”

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The selection of his team, as mentioned, will be a tough one this weekend. There were nine players missing for the trip to The Den and after the packed run of games the workload of some players is higher than he would like, so this weekend’s pick will be a tough one.

“In particular positions we have challenges. In certain positions we do have options, albeit they might be limited or restricted from what we normally have, but there are some areas of the park where we are right down to the bare bones.

“We had two young kids on the bench the other night, which is good for them, but for us to be really competitive and to win games on a regular basis at this level, we need everybody fit to give ourselves the best opportunity, particularly against clubs and squads that are bigger and stronger than us,” he added.

There’s loads from Alex, as he discusses handing Greg Cunningham the captain’s armband at Millwall, what the Irishman has brough to the side, plus why he will never leave empty spaces on the bench and what the young players involved recently will learn from the experience – just click on the video at the top of the page to watch the full interview.

This weekend’s game is live on iFollow PNE, with Jonathan Breeze and former North End defender Michael Jackson on commentary duties, from around 2.30pm – click here now to sign up for a match pass to watch the full coverage.

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