Marauding left-back Scott Laird thinks Preston North End supporters have not seen the best of him this season.
The 25-year-old readily admits that he perhaps underestimated how long it would take him – both mentally and physically – to recover from the broken leg he suffered last season.
Laird was arguably North End’s stand-out performer during the first half of the 2012/13 season until he sustained the nasty injury in a league encounter against Notts County at Deepdale.
He spent the rest of the season on the sidelines but recovered in time for the start of pre-season last summer.
Vying for a place in the PNE starting XI with fellow left-back David Buchanan, Laird has been in and out of the team this season.
He was recalled by manager Simon Grayson for last weekend’s thumping 6-1 victory over Carlisle United after spending a period on the substitutes’ bench.
Although he did not get the man-of-the-match award, Laird impressed against the Cumbrians.
He believes his best form is just around the corner, which could prove crucial in the final run-in to the season as North End attempt to finish the campaign on a high by winning promotion back to the Championship.
Laird said: “I have played a lot of games this season since my leg break but I haven’t been as good as I should have been.
“I have probably been holding it in a little bit –mentally worrying and also my body has probably not been quite ready.
“But on Saturday and the last couple of weeks in training, I have felt like I have been back to my best.
“I’ve let myself go, enjoyed myself. I’ve been getting forward, winning tackles, putting crosses in, getting shots away.
“Everything which my game is about came back on Saturday.
“I usually average eight or nine goals per season and I’m normally in the teens when it comes to goal assists.
“But this season I haven’t quite reached those heights, but I still speak to my specialist regularly and he says it takes as long as you’re out to get back to where you were.
“So from the start of this season to now is probably around the same length of time I was out for.
“I think I’m a couple of weeks past that stage now and I am actually starting to feel like I am back to where I was before the injury.
“It’s funny that the specialist said that and I have started to feel like this over the past couple of weeks.
“I have just got to keep it going now, keep that confidence level up and keep believing in myself.”
On a personal level, Laird is disappointed that the season is coming to an end in many respects.
He said: “It is a bit like last season in that I was virtually getting back to full fitness and I could have got on the bench in the last few games.
“I didn’t want it to end then and it’s the same this season, but if we can get that ultimate goal of promotion then I don’t think I will really care.”
Indeed, North End are firmly in the hunt for promotion this season. They are assured of a place in the play-offs but the carrot of automatic promotion is still dangling in front of them.
Today’s trip to second-placed Brentford is arguably their biggest game of the season so far.
A win there would see Grayson’s men cut the gap between themselves and the Bees to just five points, with three games left to play.
“There is pressure on us tomorrow because we need to win,” Laird revealed.
“But there’s probably a little bit more pressure on them because they know it’s there for them to lose.
“We have to chase them whereas they are already there – they have the points on the board.
“It’s for them to chuck away, so if we can go there and get the three points…football is a funny game.
“I have been in a promotion situation before for Stevenage in League Two when we were seven points behind with five games to go and we ended up getting in there by two points. The pressure can affect you and it can quickly change around.
“But there’s no getting away from it – this is a must-win game for us if we want go up automatically.”
As well as reopening the race for promotion, North End would also like to exact revenge on Mark Warburton’s side after they came to Deepdale earlier in the season and comprehensively won 3-0.
“They are probably one of the best sides we have played this season at our place,” Laird said.
“They did what we probably did last Saturday – they enjoyed themselves on a big, good pitch like Deepdale and played some good, attractive football.
“That’s why I think our win over Carlisle was the perfect preparation.
“Hopefully, we can do to Brentford what they did to us at Deepdale. We are going to have to be our best to get the three points.”