Why Preston boss Alex Neil is looking forward to a meeting with Middlesbrough and Tony Pulis
Preston boss Alex Neil is relishing the prospect of a tactical battle with Tony Pulis ahead of the Lilywhites' trip to Middlesbrough on Wednesday night.
Boro will be hoping to bounce back following their 2-1 home defeat by Brentford at the weekend, yet it won't be easy for the Teessiders against an in-form Preston side who haven't lost for 11 league games.
The run has taken Preston to within four points off the play-off, while fifth-place Boro are also fighting for a spot in the top six.
Neil, therefore, knows the importance of the game at the Riverside and is looking forward to the challenge.
“It is going to be a huge game for both teams," said Neil. "Their disappointment from losing their last match against Brentford will mean they certainly want to win this one to make things right.
“They are a good team; a strong team. They have invested a lot of money putting this team together.
"Tony (Pulis) has got them into the play-off positions and defensively they are very solid, very well organised and it is going to be difficult for us to go and beat them.
“Tony is a very tactical manager. You can see how he sets his teams up and why he does it. Even his changes within games, you can see the thinking behind it, so he is very much a thinking man’s manager."
Pulis received criticism from fans for his second-half substitution against Brentford, when the Boro boss withdrew top scorer Britt Assombalonga and replaced him with George Friend.
It was a result which saw the Teessiders fall 12 points adrift of the automatic promotion places with 11 games to go.
Still, Neil is well aware of Boro's strengths, as well as their ability to adapt against different opponents.
“It is going to be a tough one. I have seen Middlesbrough play in different ways this season as well," the Preston boss added.
"I have seen them play against people when they have been really aggressive and I have seen other games where they have scored the goal and been a bit more defensive.
“We just need to make sure that we do what is required within the game.
"If we need to soak up pressure at times, we need to be able to do that. If we need to play on the front foot and get up against them and force them back in and try and get that first goal, then we need to be ready to do that as well."
Preston have one of the youngest squads in the Championship and Neil has urged his players to embrace the occasion.
“These are the type of tests our young players will thrive on," added Neil. I am sure whoever plays will think this is a great opportunity to show what they can do, but you don’t become a top player for no reason.
"They have players with great qualities, who will want to influence the game as well."