Paul Huntington admitted to a big sense of both joy and relief at marking his return to league action by scoring Preston North End’s midweek winner at Gillingham.
Until Tuesday night’s visit to the Priestfield Stadium, centre-half Huntington had not started a League One game since December 29.
He appeared briefly as a substitute in April’s 6-1 win over his home-town club Carlisle and this season had been limited to two appearances in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
The 27-year-old got his chance against the Gills after a virus ruled out Tom Clarke, and with Scott Wiseman pulling up with a knee injury in the warm-up, PNE’s back four had an unfamiliar look.
But it held together extremely well to keep a clean sheet and Huntington found the net at the other end for the seventh time in his PNE career.
Huntington said: “I enjoyed it – it was good to get a game, especially in the league.
“When I wasn’t in the team I kept myself right, fitness-wise, applied myself in training and showed the right attitude.
“I was really pleased for the lads, more than anything, Tuesday night was our sixth win on the bounce and to be part of that was really good.
“To score the goal was obviously very pleasing.
“I could have had one a few minutes earlier. I was just about to nod the ball in when their goalkeeper got fingertips to the ball. That made me step back two or three yards and I couldn’t really get purchase on it.
“The ball hit the underside of the bar and bounced down on the line, it seemed to take an age and I thought someone was going to tap it in but there was no one there.
“Thankfully another chance came along and this time I scored.
“The ball had been cleared out of the box and I made eye contact with Chris Humphrey when it came to him.
“I just pulled around to the back stick and I knew the cross was coming there.
“Chris saw me and he delivered a great ball which I headed back across goal. It was a great feeling to see it go in.
“While there is a long way to go this season, we are building momentum and the manager is instilling a winning mentality.
“We have shown that mentality over the last six games and long may it continue.”
Huntington felt it took him a little while to get into his stride at Gillingham because of his shortage of match action at league level and due to the windy conditions which PNE faced in Kent.
“In the first half we played against the wind and managed to have some of the play,” said the former Newcastle and Leeds defender.
“I thought we really came into our own in the second half and personally, I found my timing and got into my stride.
“We were worthy winners and I think we could have won by more because we hit the woodwork a few times.
“The support we got from our fans at Gillingham was great. It was a long way for them to go but we heard them all game and going over to them at the final whistle was a great feeling.”
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