Experienced PNE star is still willing to learn

Preston North End's Paul Gallagher
Preston North End's Paul Gallagher
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Even a couple of months past his 32nd birthday, Preston North End midfielder Paul Gallagher is willing to learn a few new tricks.

In his three years with the Lilywhites, Gallagher has adapted to different roles.

Signed as an attacking midfielder when he joined on loan from Leicester City in October 2013, he has been used on the wing and further back in midfield.

For a good chunk of last season, Gallagher played a ‘quarter-back’ role at the base of a three-man engine room.

That was more designed to get him on the ball early to get attacks mounted, rather than as a shield in front of the defence.

In PNE’s last outing against Rotherham, it was something a bit different again for Gallagher.

With the side shorn of a ‘ratter’ type midfielder due to John Welsh being injured and Ben Pearson and Alan Browne suspended, it meant a rethink in the middle of the park from Simon Grayson.

The North End manager opted to use Gallagher and Daniel Johnson as a central pair, flanked by Ben Pringle and Aiden McGeady, with Callum Robinson operating just off the striker.

‘A bit lightweight’ was a common reaction on social media when the team-sheet was published.

Such fears were to prove unfounded, Gallagher and DJ going about their jobs in a most efficient manner as Preston were 3-1 winners.

Gallagher played a sitting role, that giving DJ more of a licence to attack.

“We were missing the three lads who are known as tacklers and like to get stuck in,” Gallagher told the Evening Post.

“We had to play with our heads a bit more, make sure we kept the ball as much as we could.

“When we lost the ball and Rotherham had it, we had to show discipline and drop into our shape.

“Don’t get me wrong, we still put a tackle in when it was needed.

“But other times it was a case of getting close to their players and not allowing them time on the ball.

“I had a deeper role than DJ, it was nice to hold back a bit and watch DJ, Aiden, Ben and Callum play further up the pitch.

“They did their fair share of defensive work though, Aiden put in a great sliding challenge as one of their lads was having a shot.

“In the second half we counter-attacked very well, used the ball intelligently and picked holes.

“There was a 10-minute spell after they scored when we were under pressure but we came through that and scored the third goal.

“My role as the deeper one of the two in midfield was not really one I had done before.

“I’ve played deep in a three-man midfield and played further forward in a three and a two.

“Being the sitter in a two, I had to be disciplined and pick my time when to push forward.

“In this game, you should always be learning.

“I’m 32 now and learning new things, it is good to be able to adapt your game.

“At times my first instinct was to push forward when we went on the attack but I stayed a bit deeper.

“DJ played the attacking role really well, his run and cross to Marnick Vermijl for the third goal was superb.”

The players operating in front of Gallagher, caught his eye at Rotherham.

“A key to the win was the movement we had behind Jordan Hugill,” Gallagher said.

“Callum was just off him, then Aiden and Ben were in the wide areas.

“You saw those three inter-change quite a lot, Aiden started on the right and then you saw him pop up on the left to set up the second goal.

“When you have players moving like that, it makes them difficult to mark and they ask the opposition a lot of questions.”

It might be that Gallagher is given a more attacking role when Preston resume action after the international break against Wolves.

Pearson’s suspension was only for one game after five yellow cards, so is available to play a sitting job.

Welsh isn’t far away from a return either, while Browne has one more game of his three-match ban to serve.

Wolves’s visit is the first of back-to-back home games for North End, with Burton here the following Saturday.

That completes the fixture programme for November, it a somewhat quieter month after hectic schedules in both September and October.

Things pick-up again in December, a trip to Sheffield Wednesday kicking things off.

There is the televised local derby with Blackburn, then away games at Nottingham Forest and Bristol City ahead of the Christmas period.

Said Gallagher: “The break has probably come at a good time, even though we are on a roll at the moment.

“We can get a bit of rest, do some work on the training ground and get ready for a busy spell.

“We’ve got to look up the table, not down it.”

Gallagher has passed through the 150-game barrier for PNE since his 2013 arrival, an 18-month loan turning into a permanent move after promotion.

Earlier in his career, he had made 19 appearances in a Preston shirt during a loan stay from Blackburn. This is a club he certainly feels at home at.

One of the 30 goals which he has scored in North End colours, has been shortlisted for goal of the year award at the MBNA North West Football Awards in Manchester on Monday night.

The goal in question came in last season’s 3-0 victory over Charlton Athletic at The Valley.

He scored twice that night, it being the second one which has been nominated.

Gallagher had swung over a corner, one which was cleared out of the goalmouth .

It fell back into his path as he came in-field, Gallagher bending a superb shot into the far corner of the net from a narrow angle.

Voting in the goal of the year category takes place via social media during the awards ceremony.

Greg Cunningham and Browne are both chasing an award.

Cunningham is on a three-man shortlist for the Championship player of the year, while fellow Irishman Browne is a nominee for the rising star award.

North End’s fitness coach Tom Little is shortlisted for the Fabrice Muamba Award for outstanding service to football medicine and science.

North End’s Education and Community Trust are up for two awards.