Time for promotion-hopefuls Preston to be taken seriously

Preston North End
Preston boss Alex Neil accepted his side's performance in their 1-0 win at Blackburn was not 'vintage' but said getting three points was the priority.

Preston have slipped under the radar in the Championship so far this season, but Alex Neil's side look like a team that could be heading for the Premier League.

Neil has been in charge of Preston since the summer of 2017 and he has come close to getting them into the play-offs in each of his first two seasons in charge, although they ultimately missed out by two points in 2018 before a late dip in form last term saw them fall away from the top-six picture.

Despite flirting with promotion over those two years, nobody was really talking the Lilywhites up as promotion contenders this season, but as we approach the busy festive period, they are sitting in second and that is by no means a fluke.

Indeed, Preston have only lost three of their 16 league games to date this term and anyone that thinks they are merely grinding out results would be mistaken, as they have found the back of the net more times than any other team in the division, while they also boast the best goal difference.

There appears to be similarities with this Preston team to Sheffield United of last season, as they were also unfancied to challenge, but ended up pipping Leeds to second place.

Like Preston, the Blades flew somewhat under the radar last season, with many people expecting them to fall away, while their manager, Chris Wilder, focused on a team ethos rather than signing big-name stars – something that you can also attribute to Neil.

That is certainly the approach Neil has adopted over his two-and-a-half-years at Deepdale, with his focus in the transfer market tending to take him to the lower leagues in England or the top flights in both the Republic of Ireland and his native Scotland.

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Indeed, the spine of his team is made up of players brought in from relative obscurity.

Forwards Billy Bodin and Jayden Stockley were signed from Bristol Rovers and Exeter respectively, while midfielder Brad Potts joined from Barnsley and defender Joe Rafferty made the step up from Rochdale.

Neil has also improved existing members of the squad, with Irish duo Alan Browne and Sean Maguire now regulars in Mick McCarthy’s international set-up, while Paul Gallagher looked to be coming towards the end of his career, but has since been galvanised under his fellow Scot.

Leading scorer Daniel Johnson is arguably another player enjoying the best season of his career, as he has eight goals from midfield already, equalling his highest tally for a campaign and we are still only in November.

Neil certainly deserves to receive plenty of plaudits, but he always seems to get overlooked when jobs in the Premier League come up.

It is a similar story with Preston in general, with most people tipping the likes of West Brom, Leeds and Fulham to be the main protagonists in the promotion mix come the end of the season, but don’t be surprised if the Lilywhites continue to go under the radar and maintain their form for the entirety of the campaign.

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