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Alex Neil “quite surprised” at return of fans as coronavirus numbers increase

Alex Neil File Photo
(Image credit: Anthony Devlin)

Preston boss Alex Neil admits he is “quite surprised” plans for supporters to return to stadiums this weekend are going ahead.

The Lilywhites’ Sky Bet Championship clash with Neil’s old club Norwich at Carrow Road is among seven English Football League fixtures on Saturday set to have up to 1,000 fans in attendance.

The fixtures are being used as pilot events for the reintroduction of supporters to venues – on a socially-distanced basis – amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It will be the first time the English men’s professional leagues will have paying spectators since March.

Neil was quoted by the Lancashire Post as saying: “I have been one of the advocates of wanting to get fans back in as soon as possible.

“However, things are changing in normal life, there seems to be a bit of a spike again and I’m actually quite surprised they are continuing with introducing fans.

“But we would all like it back to normal as quickly as possible, providing it is safe to do so.”

Norwich striker Teemu Pukki told his club’s official website: “When we found out about the news that there would be fans, we were all pretty happy about it. I’ve been missing playing in front of the fans a lot.

“I hope they give us a good cheering from the stands and we will do our best on the pitch.”

The other Championship game being used as a test event is Middlesbrough’s encounter with Bournemouth at the Riverside Stadium – ahead of which Boro boss Neil Warnock has tested positive for Covid-19.

With the 71-year-old now self-isolating, assistant Kevin Blackwell is set to be in charge in the dugout.

Bournemouth boss Jason Tindall wished Warnock a speedy recovery at his pre-match press conference.

And when asked if there had been concerns within the Cherries camp about making the trip, with tougher coronavirus measures for people in the north-east having been announced, Tindall said: “We’ve had no players express those concerns to us.

Jason Tindall File Photos

Jason Tindall says the club doctors at Bournemouth and Middlesbrough have been in regular contact (PA)

“Both (club) doctors I know have been in regular contact, obviously when the news broke about Neil, and then with the fans being allowed in the stadium and the surrounding areas with the cases that are going on there, the doctors have been in contact with each other and they don’t seem to be too concerned.

“I’m sure when we get to Middlesbrough they’ve got all the right protocols in place to make sure that it’s a safe environment for everyone to be in.”

Both Norwich and Bournemouth won their Championship campaign-openers last week, as did fellow relegated side Watford, who are at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday. Beaten play-off finalists Brentford, who lost at Birmingham last weekend, will look to get off the mark as they host Huddersfield.

Promoted pair Wycombe and Rotherham are away to Blackburn and home against Millwall respectively. Elsewhere, Nottingham Forest host Cardiff, Swansea entertain Birmingham, Derby are at Luton and Reading play Barnsley at the Madejski Stadium.