Huntington at the centre of North End’s evolution

Huntington rises highest to score in the Deepdale win over Championship high-fliers Brighton

Huntington rises highest to score in the Deepdale win over Championship high-fliers Brighton

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Paul Huntington’s campaign sums up just how much has changed at Deepdale over the course of the campaign.

The joint-longest serving player along with John Welsh struggled for game time in the opening weeks as Preston limped out of the blocks in the Championship.

It included missing the 5-0 hammering in the reverse fixture with Saturday’s opponents Brentford back on September 17.

Simon Grayson’s side is likely to have an entirely different look this weekend though, Anders Lindegaard and Eoin Doyle amongst the starters at Griffin Park.

Huntington is one of those to have cemented his spot as PNE have developed, the giant central defender set for an 11th straight start at the heart of the defence this weekend.

“I was speaking to a couple of lads on the way out to training that the group is quite a lot different to the start of the season,” he said.

“It’s happened a lot, players finding themselves out of the side and then before they know it they’re back in.

“Certain players might be thinking they’re not getting much joy and it’s not looking like they’re going to play.

“But things can change quickly.

“We didn’t start the way we would have liked but we’ve progressed a lot since the first game at Brentford.

“Certain individuals might use the game down there as motivation. We know it’s going to be a tough game – they’re a very good footballing side and we know all about them.

“We’ll have to try and counteract their good players and stamp our 
authority on the game being the home side.”

Huntington’s run in the side started in the win at Bristol City back on December 17, coming on the back of two late substitute appearances against Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest.

Prior to that he had not featured since the 6-0 hammering at Newcastle in the EFL Cup at the end of October.

With Bailey Wright having left for the Robins, Huntington is back alongside captain Tom Clarke but knows plenty can 
happen between now and the end of the season.

“Being mentally strong is key,” said the former Newcastle and Leeds man.

“I’m a bit older now, when you’re younger you might get frustrated and certain players might throw their toys out of the pram.

“But you’ve got to earn your spot and when your chance does come along you’ve got to be ready.

“It’s been nice, playing the last dozen or so games, but I’m taking nothing for granted.

“We’ve got good competition for places.

“We’ve got a good squad, probably the biggest one we’ve had, but that’s probably down to the loan changes this season, which is something we’ve had to adapt to.

“But the squad is strong. We’ve got players who are either on the bench to come on or not even in the 18 and I’ve told them they’ve been unlucky.

“It’s not always down to how you perform, it’s just a certain team selection and setting up a certain way some times.

“You’ve just got to keep your head down and your chance will come.”

PNE head into the Brentford game without a win in four Championship games, sitting seven points off the play-offs back in 11th.

With the frustration of the defeat to Cardiff and draw and Barnsley last week Huntington says the focus more than ever is on closing the gap to the top six.

The 29-year-old is pleased however with how things are developing at Deepdale.

“I think we’re three points ahead of where we were at this time last year,” he said. I’ve been keeping an eye on that and 
comparing.

“We’ve been in 
touching distance of the play-offs and after last weekend it got away from us a little bit with a few too many draws.

“On the whole, as a squad we’ve improved though with the personnel we’ve brought in and we’ve obviously been a bit more expansive and scored more goals.

“Last season we’d just come up and it was a good season but you want to keep progressing as a team and as a club.

“The players, staff and fans are all the same.

“I think for us it’s aiming to beat the position we finished in last year and getting as close to the play-offs as we can, if not nicking that final spot.

“We’ve got to keep 
believing we can do that.

“At the same time we’re taking nothing for granted. We know that there are a lot of very good football clubs below us in the division and you’ve got to earn every point.

“I used Aston Villa as an example the other week. The money they’ve spent looks great on paper but it’s different when you get out there.

“It’s football, anything can happen.

“Hopefully we’ll finish as strong as we can.”

With another Deepdale date to follow quickly on Tuesday against Birmingham and then a trip to Wigan the following Saturday to come, it is a seven days where North End can really get things up and running again.

“With the two home games we’ve got we’d 
obviously like to get as many points as possible,” said Huntington.

“Obviously Brentford are a very good side and then there’s Birmingham on Tuesday.

“With this league it doesn’t always go how you’d expect, though.

“You might be the home side and think that you should get the three points but we saw against Ipswich, who hadn’t been on a great run, that every point has got to be earned.

“We’ve got some really good attacking players, it’s just getting that balance between being compact and hard to beat and then playing some expansive football.

“In the last couple of games we haven’t quite taken our chances or had the quality in the final third.

“As a group we know we can improve on that and it’s something we’ve been working on.

“We know about the league and the way it is and we’re under no illusions it will be another tough game on Saturday.”