Cunningham's pride at being PNE skipper
To have the Preston North End captain's armband on his arm was a proud moment for Greg Cunningham.
He led PNE out for the first time for the 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday and thoroughly enjoyed the extra responsibility which the skipper’s job brings.
A touch of diplomacy was needed from him with the referee when Ben Pearson threatened to boil over but otherwise things went well on the opening day.
“It is a great honour to be made skipper and it was nice to have all the family there on Saturday,” Cunningham told the Post.
“That was the first league game in the job and a very proud moment I must say.
“First and foremost, it was nice to win the game but to have captained the side was personally very pleasing.
“I will not change my game just because I have got the captaincy – I’ll play as I have always done and give everything.
“Captains can voice their opinion with the referee more than the other players which helps me.
“There’s that communication between the captain and officials, a level of respect.
“On Saturday there were decisions which we hadn’t been happy with so I had a word just to let us get our point across.”
Victory over the Owls was a perfect way to start the season and PNE now turn their attention to the Carabao Cup first round trip to Accrington Stanley.
Being able to follow up the first-day win with progress in the cup would be an early season boost.
Cunningham said: “It was a great win on Saturday.
“We had worked very hard in pre-season and I thought that showed in the result and the performance.
“To get a clean sheet and a win – to put points on the board early doors – was a big plus for us.
“I thought we dominated the game, we were fitter and sharper and we executed the game-plan well to get our rewards.
“We play Accrington now and that is part of a busy start to the season.
“It’s a game to look forward to and we want to make progress, build-up the confidence and form.”
It is a return visit to the Crown Ground for Preston, with them only having been in East Lancashire three weeks ago for a pre-season friendly.
They won 3-2 that night, Cunningham scoring the third goal after Alan Browne and Callum Robinson had put North End ahead in the first half.
“We got a bit of a look at each other that night but it was only a pre-season game,” said Cunningham.
“If I remember rightly, we made a lot of changes for the game and so did Accrington.
“It will be a tough game in the cup, as it was in the visit the other week.
“We certainly won’t be taking them lightly, they had a good result on Saturday.
“Our job is to go there and be professional, earn the right to play and try and get into the next round.
“In the Championship over the last two years, we have been regarded as the underdog in many of the games but I think gradually that is changing.
“Against Accrington, we will be expected to win as we are the Championship side.
“It is up to us to live up to the expectation and get the result we want.”
Saturday’s victory was the official start of the Alex Neil era after a month of build-up in the pre-season.
Cunningham is enjoying working with the new North End boss and adapting to the changes the Scotsman has brought about.
“This is a new chapter for the club and we’ve had four weeks with the gaffer now, working out how he wants us to play.
“The training in pre-season was very good and it was nice to take that out on to the pitch against Sheffield Wednesday.
“It is still a work in progress at the moment but we are getting there.
“We will continue to work hard and learn what the gaffer wants on a regular basis.
“It has been a big change but we are professionals at the end of the day and it is our job to adapt.
“We are a young, hungry squad who want to do well.”
Last season ended painfully for Cunningham when he broke his leg on Easter Monday against Norwich.
Timing-wise, it was not the worse for him, the injury coming just two weeks before the end of the season.
“I only missed three games because of it,” said Cunningham.
“Some of the summer I spent doing my rehab and I was back fit for the first day of pre-season – I didn’t miss a single session.
“It wasn’t nice to suffer the injury and I hate missing games, but it could have been a lot worse.
“Had to happened during the season rather than right at the end, I might have been out for six or seven weeks.
“It was a hairline fracture, not a bad break, and it was just a case of letting it heal and keeping the leg strong.”
With this an era when some players roll around on the floor as if they have been shot after getting a tap on the leg, Cunningham showed a lot of bravery when he broke his leg.
After suffering the injury in a tackle, he got up and played on for a few minutes.
“I have a plate in that leg from an earlier injury and I didn’t think anything was wrong to start with,” he said.
“After a couple of minutes the pain wasn’t easing off and it didn’t feel quite right.
“It was then I came off and I found out later I’d fractured a bone in there.”