Declan Rudd says the difference between the Preston North End he walked into 12 months ago and the one now is ‘chalk and cheese’.
The young goalkeeper’s arrival from Norwich City on loan came during a turbulent time at Deepdale.
He signed during the death throes of Graham Westley’s reign, with his debut coming in the 3-1 defeat at Yeovil which proved the end for Westley.
Almost a year on, PNE are in a much better place and Rudd will play his 50th game in the Preston keeper’s jersey at Tranmere tomorrow (3pm).
They head to the Wirral with a promotion push their sole focus after Wednesday night’s unlucky FA Cup exit to Nottingham Forest.
The manner in which they pushed Championship outfit Forest all the way, speaks volumes for the progress made on the pitch since Simon Grayson got hold of the side.
Rudd said: “It’s pretty much bang on a year since I joined Preston and it is one that I’ve enjoyed so much.
“There has been a lot of change very quickly – in the first two weeks I was here the club was not in the best of states.
“It quickly changed and as soon as Simon Grayson came in, you could see how the mood lifted.
“The form, results and how we have played, have been chalk and cheese compared to how it was.
“I think an increase in confidence has been the main reason behind the improvement.
“The gaffer gives confidence to each and every player, and we have all thrived on that.
“This time last year the team were on a bad run and when that happens, your confidence goes – it doesn’t matter who you are.
“There are still a lot of the lads here who were at the club 12 months ago.
“That shows the quality was right, it was just that the confidence was gone.
“With a bit of trust and the right people around you, it can kick you on so much.
“This club is pushing on towards where it should be, having been in a position it should not have found itself in.
“We are on the way back up there and now it is up to us to take Preston there.”
Rudd, who turned 23 last month, believes he has taken big steps forward as a keeper during his loan spell.
He needed an extended run of matches after being limited to just 14 starts in four years in the Norwich side.
As Rudd approaches his half-century landmark, he has certainly got what he came for at North End.
“I have a lot to be thankful to Preston for,” said the former England Under-21s international.
“At the time a lot of managers weren’t willing to take the risk with me.
“Thankfully Preston were prepared to take a chance and a year on I’m still here.
“It has been brilliant and being here has brought me out as a person a lot more.
“Although I moved out of home at 16 when I joined Norwich, it was only half-an-hour up the road.
“I’m now four-and-a-half hours from home but my fiancée and myself have settled nicely here.
“It is nice to be playing every week – it’s not much of a job if there is nothing to work for at the end of the week.
“As a team we are going really well, having lost only four league games this season and just three in the cups.
“When I first came to Preston, I wasn’t sure how I would cope playing every week. But I have coped, I’ve loved it and I have improved so much as a goalkeeper. To be asked in the summer to come back for this season was an honour.”
While North End bowed out of the FA Cup to Forest, they were far from disgraced.
They bossed much of the game after falling behind to an 18th-minute goal from Jamie Mackie. Only deep into injury time did they concede the second goal.
Said Rudd: “It was one of those games where the better team lost.
“We had 26 chances, Forest had three or four and took two of them.
“Other than the result, it was a great night and I think that we can be very proud of our performance. We have shown that we can compete against one of the better Championship clubs.
“It is not often that you can take too many positives from a defeat but Wednesday night was one of those occasions when you could.
“The next 18 games are going to be massive – we need to have a big finish.
“If we can perform most weeks like we did against Forest, then we should be fine.
“We will kick on, work hard and hopefully things will fall for us.
“It is time to really knuckle down and see where that takes us.
“We have a big game at Tranmere tomorrow and it should be a good atmosphere.
“I’m sure we will take a big following and we want to give them something to cheer about.
“We had a good win in the league last week against Notts County and it’s important that we back that up.”