Sheffield Wednesday: Rival boss targets promotion push next season

Preston boss Alex Neil has set his sights on a Championship play-off tilt next season.

By dom.howson1
Thursday, 25 April, 2019, 15:05

Neil's side, who host the Owls in their final home fixture of the 2018/19 campaign this weekend, are mathematically out of this year's top-six race following five defeats in six matches.

But Neil reckons Preston, who currently occupy 11th position, can mount a top-six charge next year if they add more experience to their ranks this summer.

"If we can keep the majority of our key players fit, automatically you give yourself a good opportunity of being in the top half and challenging for the top six," he said.

"If we can then supplement that by signing a few players who have got experience to a point, then all the better.

"If you look for example at Brad Potts, he came in and made a really good impact for us.

Preston North End manager Alex Neil

"Albeit he was playing in League One when we signed him, he'd had experience in the Championship with Barnsley.

"He knew what the level was, he wasn't a young kid learning his trade, he was 24.

"The difference between coaching a 20-year-old and a 24-year-old or 25-year-old is quite big."

After entertaining Wednesday at Deepdale, the Lilywhites conclude their campaign with a trip to Brentford a week on Sunday.

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"We have had so many debutants this year in terms of guys that have never played in the Championship before coming into the team and we have guys who we have relied on more than what we might have done had everyone been fit.

"We have lacked experience in some games.

"We have not got experience in the level and we have young players who have not played a lot of minutes anyway and we have had key players missing sporadically throughout the season so it has been difficult to get some rhythm.

"It is really difficult to take players from League Two or League One and be at the top end of the division, that is really hard to do."

Preston, beaten by Wigan Athletic on Easter Monday, could recall Ben Pearson to their midfield. He has sat-out their last three matches, having been sent off in the defeat to Leeds United earlier this month, his third red card of the campaign.

Neil said: "It has been a difficult season to get any kind of rhythm. We have had a lot to contend with. There have been peaks and troughs this season for us but we want to finish positively now in these last two games.”

He is acutely aware of the threat Wednesday will pose.

“They have vast experience throughout the squad; guys who have been there and done it – got promoted from this level, played at higher levels and have got some real quality players," added Neil.

The former Norwich City chief is also not surprised that Bruce has transformed the Owls' fortunes.

Neil said: "Steve is an experienced manager at this level, he has had numerous promotions and he wouldn’t have taken that job if he didn’t think he could go in and have a real impact.

“If you look at their squad, you can understand why he has felt he was going to go in there and have an impact. They have got a team, previous last year, were in the Play-Offs for a few years."