Bruised Hunts hails PNE spirit

Preston North End's Paul Huntington shields the ball from Ipswich Town's Tommy Smith

Preston North End's Paul Huntington shields the ball from Ipswich Town's Tommy Smith

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A battered and bruised Paul Huntington hailed Preston North End’s fighting spirit as they drew 1-1 with promotion chasing Ipswich Town at Portman Road.

Huntington was kneed in the face by keeper Sam Johnstone as the Lilywhites weathered a second half Ipswich onslaught.

And the centre back was at the centre of some late controversy as substitute Luke Hyam’s strike appeared to strike his arm whilst he was down on the ground.

Cries of ‘penalty’ echoed around Portman Road but referee Simon Hooper – who had earlier ruled out PNE new boy Ben Pearson’s effort for offside – waved away Hyam and the hostile home support’s claims.

But Huntington says there was no chance the referee was going to award a penalty.

He said: “I blocked the first one, so I was on the floor already, and then it was just two or three yards away and the lad has blasted it at me and it has hit my midriff.

“There is no way I could have got out of the way and there was no chance that the decision was going to be anything other than play on.”

North End took the lead in the seventh minute as Daniel Johnson smashed striker Eoin Doyle’s cross home at the second attempt.

The ball was blocked but fortuitously flew back to the midfielder’s feet and he gobbled up the second chance.

But despite that earlier twist of fate Huntington believes North End were unlucky as Daryl Murphy’s long range effort fizzed in against the run of play in the 38th minute.

And the defender says the Lilywhites, who are 13th in the Championship table, more than matched Mick McCarthy’s resolute seventh-placed side.

He said: “They play a certain way and I thought we more than matched them at their own game.

“Mick McCarthy’s teams always work themselves into the ground and make it difficult for you.

“They put a lot of balls in the box, a lot of balls in behind you so you are heading the ball a lot and it becomes very scrappy.

“The back five and the midfield did a good job, we made it ugly and we got the point.

“We stood up to a top side, battled, did well and we were unlucky.”

Huntington faced a torrent of abuse from the frustrated crowd after he went down in the box as he collided with Johnstone as they foiled another Ipswich cross.

He said: “I took Sam’s knees in my nose. I’m alright.

“Initially my eyes were streaming but I just got on with it.

“It happens. As long as he got the ball away that is all that mattered.”

The defence faced a late reshuffle after captain Tom Clarke pulled up at the end of the warm-up with a groin tweak.

The injury meant Calum Woods was reinstated at right back as PNE boss Simon Grayson shifted from a 3-5-2 formation to a 4-3-3 shape.

Huntington said: “It was not ideal with Clarkey having a niggle right before kick off but Calum came in and he did well when he wasn’t expecting to start.

“We changed the shape and our game plan to combat them and I thought we were a little unfortunate to be 1-1 at half-time. I thought we could have been ahead. But then we had to battle in the second half.

“We know in this league that every point or three points is hard earned so we were pleased with the point.”