Preston are back in action on Friday afternoon, hosting Ipswich Town at Deepdale after a run of four straight defeats.

Only North End could go 12 games unbeaten, be on the fringes of the play-offs, then lose four in a row and end up with nothing to play for.

Defeats to Reading, Sheffield United, Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion have ended the play-off hopes. With just four games to go, North End have nothing on the line.

One benefit is that Alex Neil can experiment a little. He’s committed his future to Preston for the next three years, and will already have on eye on next season.

Speaking ahead of Friday’s game, Neil has told BBC Radio Lancashire that he wants to ‘think like a big club’. By that, he admitted he means looking to the future and playing fringe players to see whether they’ll be involved next season.

Josh Ginnelly in action for Walsall. (Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

Two players who fit that bill perfectly are Joe Rafferty and Josh Ginnelly. The duo joined North End in cut-price January deals, arriving from League One sides Rochdale and Walsall respectively.

Neither have made their first starts for North End. Rafferty has made a couple of substitute appearances, whilst Ginnelly came off the bench against West Brom last weekend.

Neil’s plan hints that these two may just make their first starts for Preston against Ipswich. Even featuring against Wigan on Monday would make sense too. Neither have had a chance to shine just yet, and a dead rubber against an already-relegated Ipswich seems like a great opportunity.

Rafferty could replace Darnell Fisher at right back, or at left back to take Josh Earl out of the firing line. North End aren’t blessed with great options out wide now either, so handing a start to Ginnelly certainly makes sense.

The pair are likely to be squad players next season anyway, but with a few starts before the end of the season, Neil can really decide how big their roles will be next term.

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