Dave Seddon's PNE Press View

Had it not been for a back-heel, an '˜I was there' moment in the first half of Preston's win over Reading, a landmark game in the career of Paul Huntington would have slipped by without a great deal of fuss.

Saturday, 18th March 2017, 8:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:35 am
Paul Huntington in action against Brentford last month

That would probably have suited the central defender, appearance No.350 a job 
well done with quiet efficiency.

However, the limelight did fall on Huntington briefly in between the plaudits for Tom Barkhuizen, by reason of that cheeky backheel which seemed to surprise him as much as the North End faithful.

Of those 350 career games, 191 of them have come in a PNE shirt.

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If the Cumbrian stays fit and continues to be selected, he is on course to make his 200th Preston appearance on the last afternoon of the season.

Is it daring to dream that the play-offs could give him a game or two more before the campaign is out?

Huntington is a North End survivor, so too his team-mate John Welsh.

They are the only two members of the squad who remain from the summer 2012 revolution carried out by Graham Westley.

The dozen or so others who came at the same time and just beyond, have since moved on.

January’s move away for Bailey Wright saw the long-service award pass to Welsh and Huntington.

It has not always been plain sailing for Huntington at North End.

There have been lengthy spells out of the side and chances to move on.

Credit to him, he chose to stick out the tough times and the end of a second season playing in the Championship is approaching. There was a long hiatus from first-team action for Huntington in 2014.

He dropped off the radar from January until April that year, his reappearance only a brief one from the bench with North End 6-1 up against Carlisle.

Not until October 2014 did he start a league game, netting the winner away to Gillingham.

Huntington finished that campaign by scoring a goal at Wembley and being named player of the year.

Last season, he featured in 38 of the 46 games in 
North End’s return to the Championship.

But the former Newcastle man had to put the fighting gloves on again this term to battle for a place.

Until December, he had started only two league matches as Simon Grayson steadily did away with the 3-5-2 system which meant one less centre-back being required.

What opened the door for Huntington again the week before Christmas was the uncertainty over Wright’s future as the transfer window neared.

He got the nod over Wright for the December 17 clash at Bristol City, which turned out to be the next port of call for the Australian a few weeks later.

Huntington has started every game since, mainly with Tom Clarke at the heart of the defence and recently Andy Boyle as Clarke moved across to right-back.

For him to mark the 350th game of his career with a clean sheet against Reading was a striker’s equivalent of scoring.

If North End are to take their play-off push down to the wire, a few more of those shut-outs would do nicely.

While Huntington flies the flag for the old guard at Deepdale, the new arrivals have been playing key roles of late.

January signings Boyle, Barkhuizen and Daryl Horgan are enjoying life, as Tyias Browning was before his injury – from which he is on the mend.

Barkhuizen’s impact has been huge this past couple 
of weeks, with four goals 
and an assist in three 

His pace is electric, and he is so comfortable running with the ball at his feet.

Has there been genuine pace like that from a Preston player in recent years?

Pace was once a real issue in the squad – or lack of it –but in Barkhuizen, Horgan and Aiden McGeady they have it in abundance.

Daniel Johnson is no slouch either, while Callum Robinson and Jordan Hugill can move.

Counter-attacking is such a big part of the modern game, pace needed to play that way effectively.

At the back, Boyle has looked solid in his first two games.

Having had a two-month wait for his Preston debut, he could have been forgiven for being anxious about when a chance would come along.

Such anxiety has now been removed and hopefully Boyle can push on from here.

Once the shortage of right-backs eases with the returns of Alex Baptiste and Marnick Vermijl, it will be interesting to see how manager Simon Grayson shapes the defence.

Baptiste had done very well at right-back prior to his knee injury.

Him regaining fitness and sharpness would allow a move back inside for Clarke, then it’s him, Huntington and Boyle to compete for the centre-back roles.

That is probably an issue for after the international break rather than before it, with plenty for Grayson to ponder.