Faith In Youth Rewarded
Alex Neil was delighted his youthful, certainly inexperienced, Preston side were rewarded with a 1-0 victory over Reading, beaten play-off finalists last season, at Deepdale on Saturday.
Jordan Hugill's first half goal proved the difference.
Hugill collected a Sean Maguire knockdown on his chest before firing past Reading goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who denied Tom Barkhuizen and Arsenal loanee Stephy Mavididi goals to give North End a greater winning margin.
One was enough though and Neil was 'really pleased for the boys as they did great.'
The box was especially pleased with a clean sheet being secured in a back four including Josh Earl, 18, who made his Championship debut at left back and the inexperienced, in terms of appearances for Preston, Ben Davies, 22, rewarded with a new long-term deal during the summer, in central defence.
Praising his youthful side he told the Official Website: 'I think people need to understand how well the lads played today. When you look at the team that beat Reading last year, you had the likes of Tom Clarke, Aiden McGeady and Greg Cunningham in it who are all experienced players who have all played at this level - Today we had a young 18-year-old in Josh Earl starting, Ben Davies coming in for just his second start at this level - even our front line was really young; Stephy Mavididi has come in and played his first game at this level who's 19 so for the lads to perform as well as they did was outstanding and they thoroughly deserved the win.'
Neil made four changes to the side beaten by Derby last time round with the attacking players, including match winner Hugill and former Manchester United forward Josh Harrop, making his first Championship start.
'I thought Jordan Hugill was magnificent and deserved his goal for his performance but I thought equally Sean Maguire, Tom Barkhuizen, Josh Harrop in behind him were great,' said Neil. 'The back four did what they always do which is go and put their heads in places and put their bodies on the line and then you've got DJ and Ben controlling the game for us in behind and if they do get through, Chris Maxwell's there so I'm really pleased for them as they did fantastic and it was a great day for us.'
Davies' inclusion meant he made just his second Championship start but it was one Neil felt he warranted.
Meanwhile, Earl, who featured regularly in pre-season, was included as captain Greg Cunningham was forced to sit out but he too took his chance and has been tipped to become a 'top' left back.
Neil said: 'Ben Davies has got real pace and you could see that with that last ditch tackle in the second half and that's why he was in the team. We knew they would stretch us and they've got players who are quick at the top end and Ben can cover that.'
Concluding: 'Greg Cunningham being injured is devastating for us all but it presents an opportunity to young Josh Earl who in pre-season has shown up great so I didn't really hesitate in giving them an opportunity. You're not going to get many 18-year-olds who are six foot three and can run like the wind. He's got real potential and hopefully we can harness that potential and make him become one of the top left backs.'