Huntington ready to put injustice of Huddersfield defeat behind him

Ben Pearson and Paul Huntington remonstrate with referee Lee Probert
Ben Pearson and Paul Huntington remonstrate with referee Lee Probert
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Preston centre-half Paul Huntington wants to use the Easter Monday clash with Norwich to get the ‘gut-wrenching’ defeat to Huddersfield Town out of the system.

Emotions were raw at the end of Good Friday’s 3-2 reverse at the John Smith’s Stadium which saw North End concede a controversial penalty in stoppage-time.

While Chris Maxwell saved the 96th minute spot kick, Collin Quaner found the net with the rebound to keep the three points in West Yorkshire.

Huntington told the Post: “Norwich is a new game, a chance to get three points.

“It will be a difficult game, we are a bit low on numbers but it gives us the chance to put what was a gut-wrenching defeat to Huddersfield behind us.

“We were in over the weekend to recover from Friday, we’ve assessed what happened and we are ready to go again.

“I think we can take a lot from the performance at Huddersfield against a good footballing team.”

To say that North End felt a real sense of injustice on Friday, was stating the obvious.

After taking the lead through Aiden McGeady, Huddersfield pegged them back through an equaliser from Elias Kachunga who was later to be villain of the piece in PNE’s eyes.

Jack Payne gave the home side the lead before Jordan Hugill headed the visitors level.

Just as it looked like North End had earned a draw, Kachunga went down after a tangle in the box with Hugill off the ball.

After what seemed an age, referee Lee Probert pointed to the spot having halted play earlier.

“It was nothing, you see comings-together in the box all the time,” fumed Huntington.

“Jordan didn’t wrestle the lad over or anything like that.

“We were just trying to squeeze up the pitch, the guy walked across Jordan’s line and just threw himself down.

“I have seen it back and no one can believe what has happened.

“It was so frustrating because we put so much effort into a game against a good side.

“We were dogged, we were compact, we had a game plan and we worked very hard.

“It just felt unfair to be undone at the end in the way we were.

“In terms of us making the play-offs, it wouldn’t have mattered because Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham both won.

“For the performance we deserved to get a draw and it would have been a decent reward.

“For a decision like that to have taken a point away from us was unfair.

“In the first half, bar a late bit of sloppy play at a set piece, Huddersfield didn’t break through us.

“We have jobs to do at set-pieces and we switched off to allow them to equalise.

“After conceding again in the second half, we stayed in the game and got back level.”

Huntington wore the captain’s armband for the final stages of the game.

An injury to skipper Tom Clarke early on, saw it passed to Paul Gallagher.

When Gallagher made way for Daryl Horgan in the 74th minute, it went on to Huntington’s arm.

Clarke’s injury looks to be a serious one, a torn Achilles tendon feared.

If that is the case, his absence will run well in to next season.

When Clarke hobbled off, Tommy Spurr came off the bench to fill the left-back slot, that allowing Greg Cunningham to move inside to partner Huntington in the middle.

“It didn’t look good for Tom to be honest,” said Huntington.

“That was an early change and we had to switch things round a few times as the game went on.

“We had a midfielder at right-back at the end, a left-back playing in the centre of defence.

“The fans stuck with us all the way and they could appreciate what we were trying to do.

“It was just a shame we could not hold on for the point as a reward.”

Huntington and his team-mates will be up against a Norwich team directly below them in the table – the Canaries in 10th place, a point behind PNE.

They were beaten 3-1 at Carrow Road by Fulham on Friday which ended their play-off challenge and an instant return to the Premier League.

Former Preston boss Alan Irvine is interim manager at Norwich, with him asked to hold the fort when Alex Neil was sacked in March.

It looks likely that the East Anglian outfit will go the head coach route in the summer, the search to fill that position to be done by Stuart Webber who has recently been appointed sporting director.

Webber was lured from Huddersfield where he had been influential in the recruitment of David Wagner.

Irvine, manager of North End for 26 months, is in charge until the end of the season.

Ahead of his return to Deepdale, Irvine said: “I’m looking forward to going back, there’s no doubt about it.

“I had a really good time at Preston. We took over a team that was bottom of the league and within 18 months we were in the play-offs.

“There are a lot of happy memories of my time there and I still get very well received at Preston whenever I go there.

“From a personal point of view I’m looking forward to going back but you only enjoy it if you put in a performance.”

Tipped to make a quick return to the top flight after relegation, things have not worked out as planned for Norwich.

They started off well and were in the top four when North End beat them 1-0 at Carrow Road in October – Alex Baptiste on target.

But the Canaries have slipped since, that slide costing Neil his job.

They have won only two of their last 11 games, although one of those was the 7-1 thrashing they dished out to Reading a week last Saturday.

Fulham beat them on Friday despite going down to 10 men, striker Chris Martin red-carded.

The visitors took a 2-0 lead, Cameron Jerome pulling a goal back before the Cottagers completed the job.

Said Irvine: “We were hoping to build on that great performance last week, but we didn’t reach those levels on Friday which was disappointing.”