Preston North End v Doncaster Rovers: The opposition view – Neil’s side will be patched up for the cup

Preston boss Alex Neil
Preston boss Alex Neil

Doncaster Rovers are back in FA Cup action this weekend with a trip to a Preston North End side probably happy to take a break from Championship life.

It has been an up-and-down campaign so far for Alex Neil’s side, though they have pushed themselves away from the second tier drop zone in recent weeks.

We spoke to Adam Lord of the Lancashire Post to get the lowdown on North End.

Q: How do you assess Preston's season so far? What were the expectations in the summer and how are they matching them up?

AL: The season has been mixed to say the least.

A poor start to the season saw PNE hit rock bottom in September but a run of one defeat in 12 games lifted them closer to the play-off places than the relegation zone at one point.

An injury-hit squad has battled through the Christmas period with a key month ahead as players return from the treatment room and new ones arrive.

After seventh last season hopes were high this time around but they've been revised somewhat. 

Q: What do you make of the job Alex Neil has done so far and how is being received?

AL: Neil has done a good job at Deepdale on what are limited resources compared to some of the Championship's big-hitters.

Seventh last year was on over-achievement and was always going to be difficult to match.

There were obvious frustrations over the alarming slide at the start of the season but things have improved only to be derailed somewhat by what is a full blown injury crisis.

A big few weeks lie ahead on and off the field with fans hoping he will be backed in the transfer market as PNE bid to make sure they've got something to play for in the first half of 2019. 

Q: How seriously do you expect Preston to take this cup tie?

AL: Neil treats cup competitions as very much secondary to league points and in normal circumstances it would be a much-changed side that would welcome Doncaster.

However the PNE boss was without ten first-team players for the draw with Aston Villa on Saturday and handed debuts off the bench to 16-year-old Ethan Walker and 17-year-old Adam O'Reilly.

He'd love to rotate but may have no option but to field what side he can patch together as has been the case over a tough Christmas and New Year period. 

Q: What system and style of play does Neil favour?

AL: Neil is a 4-2-3-1 man, with any change in system usually a variation on that.

He likes two deep midfielders to try and control the game with a fluid front four tasked with doing the damage.

The PNE boss also takes great pride in the fact that his side will work harder and run further than any other team.

Neil described them as "working class" after an impressive 1-0 away win at Nottingham Forest recently, something he wears as a badge of honour. 

Q: Who are the danger men for Preston?

AL: It's tough to say given PNE's lengthy injury list and Neil's liking for rotation in the FA Cup.

Player of the year Alan Browne has been battling a hamstring injury while flying winger Tom Barkhuizen has hit top form in recent weeks but could be given a much-needed breather.

Paul Gallagher is definitely one to watch should he play, the 34-year-old rolling back the years in midfield and proving a key figure in North End's upturn in fortunes.