Preston v Barnsley: Paul Heckingbottom keeps the door open for Alex Mowatt

Alex Mowatt: Out on loan.
Alex Mowatt: Out on loan.
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PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM is urging Alex Mowatt to hand him a problem by scoring goals and getting games under his belt during his season-long loan at Oxford United.

Just seven months after joining the Reds from Leeds United for a fee in the region of £500,000, the Doncaster-born midfielder was allowed to join Oxford on deadline day, having fallen down the pecking order this term.

The proliferation of attacking midfielders at Heckingbottom’s disposal ensured that Mowatt was effectively the odd man out, but after sanctioning his move, the Reds head coach wants the 22-year-old to prove that he cannot ignore him in the long-term.

Heckingbottom said: “It is difficult, you want to give everyone a chance, but there is a group of four and there’s probably only one place for those players, as it stands at the minute.

“You cannot just rotate them every four games to give them a go just to try and be fair. The best way for Alex to force his way into our team is to go away and show that we cannot ignore him.”

After steadying the ship in terms of their home statistics with impressive back-to-back wins over Sunderland and Nottingham Forest, the Reds are seeking to chalk off their first away win of the new season, having won just once on their travels since mid-February.

Today, they face a Preston side who have made early strides under ex-Reds midfielder Alex Neil, with North End yet to concede a goal in three unbeaten games against Yorkshire opposition in 2017-18, having beaten Sheffield Wednesday and drawn with Leeds and Middlesbrough.

Heckingbottom, who today could hand a debut to deadline-day signing Gary Gardner, the final incomer following a hectic summer of additions, added: “We will learn more about ourselves now going forward as to whether we have to change the team and personnel away from home now.

“My job in earnest starts now where I can really focus on the (new) players and give them my attention.”