Ahead of Wednesday’s trip to face Hull City, Preston boss Alex Neil has been speaking to talkSPORT.
Neil spoke to Jim White about a whole range of topics, including Preston’s form, his future at Deepdale, his history with Norwich and Hamilton, his view on Rangers and Celtic, and Wednesday’s clash with Hull.
We transcribed the interview for those you’d rather have a read than a listen, with Neil going straight into commenting on Saturday’s defeat at Derby County.
AN: “I think the pressure is certainly on this one after the disappointing result at the weekend at Derby, so we want to bounce back, and that was off the back of three wins before the international break, so we just want to try and keep that momentum going.”
JW: “Just two wins in the last five, so you want to improve on that if you are to be serious contenders come April and May.”
AN: “I think that’s away from home, that record, Jim. We won three games on the bounce before we lost at Derby at the weekend, so our form has been pretty good. We’ve been playing well, but obviously we’ve got West Brom at home on Monday after Hull, so we really need to go and try to take the three points and make the game against West Brom a big one.”
JW: Is the squad presently strong enough to mount a serious challenge?
AN: “Yeah, well listen, it has been over the first 16 games. It’s a third of the season that’s gone, so I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t keep up the form we’ve had. If we can do that, certainly for the next third of the games…anything can happen in the last part of the season.”
JW: Do you often look back on your time at Norwich, where there were many highs, but there were a few lows, do you take much out of that experience and apply it here?
“Yeah I think you can take something from every experience you have. I think there were certain scenarios there that have cropped up here that I would have probably dealt with better having been through that experience. My time at Norwich was great for me personally, and it was good for the club with the fact that we got them up in the first year. I’d like to think I’ve improved a lot since those days, and will try to continue to improve.”
JW: Have you got a special feeling about Preston, at this precise moment Alex? Can you see you being at Preston in the Premier League?
AN: “Everybody hopes and wishes that’s going to be the case, in terms of getting in there. Yeah I do have a special feeling about Preston; I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far, I love working with the players, the lads are brilliant, and we have some really good players here, so yeah I really enjoy my job.”
JW: It almost seems inevitable that when another job comes up, your name gets mentioned. Do you take that as just part of the deal, you’re managing a Championship club that’s going places and you will get mentioned?
“Yeah I think that’s par for the course. If you’re not doing well, then naturally you’re name is never going to get mentioned. It’s just one of them where the team is performing, you’re in a good position in the league, then naturally there’s going to be rumours and speculation about your job and your future, but I’d much rather have it that way than us not doing well enough and none of our players or none of our staff or myself never getting mentioned for anything. I think that just shows the success we have had.”
JW: But nothing is going to deflect you from what you’re doing at Preston?
AN: “No, of course not. My sole focus is here. Speculation is just part of the game in England. I was seeing things yesterday about the sack race, and who’s favourite to be sacked, and all this sort of stuff – it really is ridiculous when you’re involved in the game but it’s part and parcel of it.”
JW: What about your old club Norwich? I know you still have a great deal of affection for them; are you confident, do you look at them week in and week out and think they can do it, they can stay in the Premier League, or do you have concerns periodically?
AN: “I look at the results week in and week out, I thought they got a great result at the weekend against Everton and naturally I’d like to see them stay up. I think everyone connected with Norwich will understand how difficult the Premier League is, and I think at the moment, their first port of call will be to get themselves out of the bottom three. If they can do that, then you’re hoping they can go and strengthen as the season goes on.”
JW: I know you still look at Scotland a lot, and what goes on up there. The mighty Hamilton Accies, they keep bubbling along don’t they, it’s tough for them week in and week out, but again, you’ve got a lot of love for them.
AN: “Yeah of course. I spent the vast majority of my career there, they gave me my chance in management as well, and I’ve got a lot of friends there. Obviously I want them to do well, they’ve stayed in the Premiership for five or six seasons now, and hopefully this will be another one and they can bring a lot of the young lads through and keep progressing.”
JW: Of course, we’ve got an Old Firm League Cup final coming up next month. Do you think this is going to be a season where Gerrard and Rangers are going to outshine Celtic, or do they have a lot to do in that one?
AN: “I think it’s neck-and-neck, to be honest. This is certainly the strongest Rangers have been since they’ve been back in the league. You can’t ever write Celtic off though; they’ve been champions and deservedly so for the last seven or eight seasons, so this one is going to go to the wire. I’m actually going to the cup final, so I’m looking forward to that.”
JW: Tomorrow night at Hull, what chance? Are you going to give it everything and try and keep this drive going?
AN: “Yeah, of course, every chance, but the fact is that Hull are a good team. They’re really dangerous, they’ve had some really good results against some of the bigger teams in this league, and we can’t take them lightly. We need to go there and perform really well to give ourselves a chance.”