Opening-day Sheffield Wednesday win laid foundations for PNE’s season

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Alex Neil says Preston North End have added ‘layers’ to their approach to matches since their opening-day win over Sheffield Wednesday.

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Tom Barkhuizen pursues Sheffield Wednesday's Daniel Pudil in PNE's 1-0 win over the Owls last August

Tom Barkhuizen pursues Sheffield Wednesday's Daniel Pudil in PNE's 1-0 win over the Owls last August

The Owls are PNE’s Good Friday opponents, the clash at Hillsborough a key one in their play-off ambitions.

A Daniel Johnson penalty gave North End a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture in August.

The team which played that day probably will not be too dissimilar to the one Neil selects on Friday. However, the Lilywhites boss thinks the Preston team has developed considerably over the last eight months.

Neil said: “We haven’t changed that much in terms of our approach.

“What we have done is added layers.

“It is like anything else, when you want to change anything you start by getting the basics right and then add to it.

“I think there has been a significant improvement in how we play by the personnel we have available.

“The improvement shown by the players has made my job easier too, by reason of their understanding of the movement we want and the understanding of scenarios.”

Against Wednesday in August, Neil paired Tommy Spurr with Paul Huntington in the back four.

Sean Maguire led the forward line in preference to Jordan Hugill.

At the time, speculation was doing the rounds over Hugill’s future and he was named on the bench.

Hugill joined the action in the 67th minute and earned the penalty for PNE’s winner.

That game was the only one in the opening weeks of the season that Maguire started in the No.9 role.

Hugill got back into the team and Neil shifted Maguire out to a wider role.

By the time Maguire came back from his long absence through injury, Hugill had been sold to West Ham.

That has allowed him to play up the middle, backed up by Callum Robinson and Tom Barkhuizen out wide.