Preston North End’s Joe Rafferty is finding playing on the left a big football education
It is no longer a surprise to see Joe Rafferty operating as Preston’s left-back and the Liverpudlian is keen to further his education with regards to playing there.
Of the 22 starts Rafferty has made this season, 20 of them have been on the left-hand side of PNE’s defence. For someone who has been moved out of his natural right-back berth, that is some statistic.
One of his two starts on the right only lasted 44 minutes with him sent-off against Fulham in December.
Another game on the left looks likely to be coming Rafferty’s way when the Lilywhites host Charlton at Deepdale on Saturday (3pm).
His homework to play there is an ongoing thing for the 26-year-old.
Rafferty said: “As a kid I tried to practice with both feet. My left foot isn’t perfect and never will be, neither is my right by the way!
“I can kick and pass with my left foot and if I’m in a situation where I can’t do that, I will use my right.
“I’m a defender and a lot of the game is about your positioning.
“What I’ve learned over the years playing on the right, I’m using on the left.
“You have got to make sure you get your angles and position correct.
“During training the manager mentions things to me about playing as a left-back but a lot of his focus is on team shape and how you fit in.
“I watch a lot of football in my spare time, probably a bit too much, and I’m always looking to learn from the games I see.
“Seeing someone caught out of position in a game is something you can learn a lot from.
“There are some great players you see in the games on television and you can pick things up.
“Sometimes I watch the game for pleasure, if Liverpool are playing I will jump around and celebrate if they score.
“But there are other games I will watch and in those I’ll study how the left-back plays.”
A series of injuries to hit Andrew Hughes this season have led to Rafferty’s predominant use on the left.
While Hughes made the left-back role his own for much of last season, this campaign he has managed only 12 appearances.
Six of those came in a run in December before he hurt his ankle playing against Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day.
Said Rafferty: “It is not a massive bother for me to play on the left.
“I played there a few times for Rochdale, not a lot to be fair.
“What is a bit strange in football is how you find quite a few right-footed players on the left but not the other way round.
“It’s a bit different for wingers, you can play them on the opposite side to allow them to cut in.
“But left-back over to right-back probably doesn’t happen too often.
“That is one of those unanswered questions in football.”
North End are likely to face their former loan player Andre Green in Saturday’s clash.
The winger was on loan from Aston Villa for the first half of the season but appeared in only six matches – four of them as a susbtitute.
Green, 21, joined Charlton on loan earlier this month and has started the two games he has been available for.
If as expected, Green operates as a left-winger he will be on the opposite side to Rafferty.
But if he switches to the Addicks’ right, Rafferty will be marking him.
Said Rafferty: “Andre was a good lad, a bit quiet to be fair.
“When I was suspended last month and Andre was here, we did a lot of one-v-one work in training.
“That could help me or it could help him.
“Whoever plays against him, it will be a stern test because he’s a good player.
“It didn’t really work out here for Andre but he’s gone to another club on loan from Aston Villa.”
With PNE’s last win coming on December 14 against Luton, they could really do with three points when the Addicks come to the town.
They start the weekend in 10th place, in contrast to going top of the division when they beat Charlton at The Valley in November.
Rafferty said: “When we were winning most weeks earlier in the season, we weren’t that naive to think we would win every game.
“We knew there would be patches when things didn’t go as well as other times.
“At the moment we aren’t far off away from being where we want to, we are within a few points.
“We haven’t had a good run of late but a couple of good results would put us right back in the mix.
“When we played Charlton at their place it wasn’t a fantastic game but we got the job done and won 1-0.
“We obviously aren’t in as good a position now as we were then but we’ve got a lot of games ahead of us.
“Last week we got a draw at Blackburn so at least we have something to build on coming back to Deepdale.”