PNE defender’s Hunt for glory

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October 21, 2014, will be a date ringed in red on Paul Huntington’s calendar.

That was the night when the centre-half won his place back in the Preston side, one he has stubbornly kept hold of since.

Paul Huntington is all smiles at the PNE pre-Wembley press call this week

Paul Huntington is all smiles at the PNE pre-Wembley press call this week

From the end of December 2013, through to October last year, Huntington had six minutes of league football to his name.

Down the pecking order of defenders, he had chances to leave Deepdale in order to get a regular game elsewhere.

Huntington chose to stick with it and a midweek trip to Gillingham was to be the turning point in his fortunes.

Injury and illness had kept Bailey Wright and Tom Clarke at home, opening the door for Huntington to start.

He scored the winner at the Priestfield Stadium that night and went on to play every minute of the next 37 games.

Had it not been for him being on the wrong end of an absolute clattering from his own goalkeeper Sam Johnstone in March’s game at Fleetwood, that consecutive run would have been longer.

That injury is well behind him now, with his appearance count now at 46. His 47th game will come at Wembley on Sunday as PNE take on Swindon in the League One play-off final.

“It was tough when I wasn’t playing,” Huntington told the Evening Post.

“The only games I played in the early part of the season were in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. I kept my head down and worked hard.

“At the end of the day, you are here to do a job and have to be professional about things.

“I kept myself right, put in the extra work and when my chance came along, I took it.

“What we do is not about individuals though.

“It is about the team and trying to win as a collective.

“Players come in and get their opportunities within a team.

“The team which started the season here isn’t the one which will finish it.

“In August we all started the season with the same aim of wanting to get promotion.

“Hopefully we can finish the job at Wembley.”

Huntington is well aware that Swindon will ask plenty of questions of the Preston defence on Sunday.

It is a task he is ready to face head on, spurred on by the prize of promotion to the Championship which is awaiting the winners.

“Swindon play very attacking football as we have seen all the way through the season,” said Huntington.

“They have that one way of playing and are quite expansive with the 3-5-2 system they like to use.

“As a team, they like to get the ball down and pass it, play out from the back.

“They are an attacking threat, which we all saw in the semi-finals, especially the second leg.

“It will be a tough game but one we are ready for.

“Hopefully we can impose our attacking threats on them as we did when we played them at our place last month and won 3-0.

“We go into the game in good form. I thought that we handled the two semi-final legs very well against Chesterfield.

“The away leg was about being strong, staying in the tie and nicking a goal.

“At home, we got the all important next goal to go 2-0 ahead on aggregate and built things from there.

“We showed what a good side we are in that second leg.

“As much as Swindon are a good side, we have to concentrate on ourselves in the final and make sure we are ready for it.

“The preparation has been good over these last couple of weeks. Last week, we had a little bit of rest in between the sessions, while this week it has been real intense.

“The lads are looking forward to the game and our aim is to go and win it.”

North End were a solid side defensively during the season, conceding only 40 league goals.

That was the second best record in the division behind champions Bristol City, who shipped 38 goals.

Huntington puts it down to a team effort rather than just singling out the back line.

“It is not about just the back four – Sam Johnstone and John Welsh in front of us,” said Huntington.

“It has been a collective effort when it has come to defending, especially in the second half of the season when you saw how hard we worked for each other. We have stuck together as a group and bounced back from the disappointment of Colchester.

“At Wembley we need another strong performance in all areas of the pitch. It would be good to do the fans proud because they have followed us all over the country this season.

“As players, we have to treat it as another game, although you cannot get away from the size of it.”