Clarke's facing familiar foe
One down and three to go '“ Preston's run of games against the Championship top four continues against Tom Clarke's former club Huddersfield tonight.
Having snatched a 2-2 draw at Brighton last Saturday, the focus moves to Deepdale for the visit of the Terriers, who led the table until the weekend.
After that it is Norwich and then Newcastle for PNE, in a double helping of the Magpies, with the sides also meeting in the League Cup.
North End skipper Clarke enjoyed the challenge of facing an attack-minded Brighton and now hopes to put one over on his ex-employers.
“We got a good result down at Brighton, we would have taken that had we been offered it before,” said Clarke.
“It was a game we started well by scoring the goal but we knew Brighton would come back into it at some stage.
“They did that, scored the two goals but we showed the character to bounce back and score a late equaliser.
“A lot has been talked about how we are playing the top four and how difficult that could be.
“As players, though, you should want to play against the top sides and test yourselves against the best.
“The table shows that we are on a run of playing against in this division at the moment.
“We’ve got Brighton out of the way and now we play at home against Huddersfield.
“It is my former club which makes it that bit more special personally.
“The main thing is that we play well and get something out of the game.”
Although it is only a little more than three years that Clarke left Huddersfield to join North End, much has changed over that side of the Pennines.
A lot of that change has come in the last 12 months with the arrival of David Wagner as head coach.
Jurgen Klopp’s best mate has got Town playing a high-energy, high-pressing game, one which has seen them start the season so well.
Said Clarke: “The chairman there has invested a lot of money and backed the manager.
“They have brought in a few foreign players and the way they have started is impressive to say the least.
“It is a very different club to when I was there, with regards the players.
“Apart from a couple of the young lads, the squad is totally different.
“There has been wholesale change, as far down as changing the youth team staff.
“The manager has had a bit of time now to put his marker down at the club and do things the way he wants.
“Their training is very intense I’m told, there is a lot of influence from how Liverpool do things because of the link between the two managers.
“We know what they are capable of from when we played them last season.
“The game at their place on Boxing Day was a difficult afternoon for us.
“Even when we beat them at home, it was a tough game and we scored late goals.
“We are wary of what they can do – we have worked on them in training.”
It is reasonable to assume that Preston’s recent form will not have gone unnoticed in the Hudderfield camp.
Simon Grayson’s men are five games unbeaten in league and cup, a tidy little run on the back of an indifferent start to the campaign.
Even when points were hard to come by in August and the first half of September, Clarke still had the belief that things would come good.
“We had a difficult start, the results show that,” said the 28-year-old defender.
“But I knew we had good players and a good staff who could change things. I remember the Derby game when we played well but lost 1-0 to a late goal.
“The performance was there but not the result, and it just needed us to start getting more of the rub of the green.
“We are five games unbeaten now and hopefully we can keep that going.
“The more consistent we can be, the higher up the table we can push.
“Those clubs up near the top are there for a reason, they have put together consistency.”
Clarke believes the depth of the squad has helped Preston’s form this last month.
Several players who did not start the season, have come into the side over recent weeks and shown their worth.
At Brighton, there was a return to the starting XI for Paul Huntington, his football diet this term having mainly been limited to substitute roles in the league and a couple of cup starts.
Huntington, Clarke and Alex Baptiste formed the defensive trio which started at the Amex Stadium, before a switch to a flat back four in the second half.
Clarke said: “We have got a good squad, the manager has recruited really well.
“The way we train and prepare for matches means that everyone is involved.
“Different partnerships will be used in training so that if someone comes into the team, we know each other’s games.
“Hunts coming back into the team at Brighton wasn’t a problem for me because we have played alongside each for the last three years.
“Every player here wants a shirt, they will compete strongly for that.”