Exclusive Mat Hudson PNE column
Preston playing Leeds this weekend obviously brings back memories of my debut in the reverse fixture at Elland Road before Christmas.
I was on the bench that day because Chris Kirkland was ill and during the first half I was needed when Jordan Pickford was sent off.
To say I wasn’t expecting that, was an understatement.
Just being selected for the bench was a big thing – I was told on the morning of the game that I was a substitute.
That was good experience in itself, then things took a bigger turn when Jordan got sent off.
When the incident happened, I went out to warm-up just as a precaution more than anything.
I thought that Jordan would get a yellow card and that I’d be sitting straight back down.
But when the red card came out – which was the wrong decision, as proved by him successfully appealing the sending-off – it was a case of running back to the bench and getting my shirt, gloves and shin pads on.
I didn’t have time to get nervous, there was no build-up, just straight out there in front of a 23,000 crowd.
As a team, we were unlucky to lose that afternoon.
The lads protected me really well and I didn’t have that much to do in the hour or so I was on the pitch.
We were unfortunate that it was an own goal from Alan Browne just after half-time which gave Leeds their win.
Browney could not do anything about it really and the ball flew in.
I suppose I can say that no Leeds player scored past me that day.
Looking back, it was not a bad occasion in which to make my first-team debut aged 17.
The Leeds game was not the first time I had been on the bench.
Last season, I was the cover keeper for the FA Cup games against Sheffield United and Manchester United.
At the time, Sam Johnstone was here but was cup-tied, with Thorsten Stuckmann starting the games.
I was only 16 then, a first-year scholar, and to be on the bench for when United played at Deepdale was a huge occasion.
Being part of the squad that night was a great occasion and a brilliant experience.
The day after the United game, I played a reserve match against Fleetwood at the training ground.
When I took a goalkick 10 minutes from time, I dislocated my kneecap and was out of action for eight months.
I ran up to take the goalkick and when I planted my leg down, it all went wrong and my kneecap popped out.
It was the second time I had suffered a dislocation – I’d done it a few weeks into my scholarship with North End.
That kept me out for four months and then the second time, I was out for eight months.
I had keyhole surgery in Bristol to repair the damage which had been done.
The fitness coach and physio staff have been great in getting me back to full fitness.
I’m on a programme in which I do leg weights after training, enabling my leg and knee to stay strong.
Touch wood, I’ve not had any pain or problems since then – long may that continue.
I’m a Southport lad and my time with Preston goes back to the Under-13s age group.
I was playing for Southport Juniors at Under-13s level and the dad of one of the other lads in the team scouted for Manchester City.
He recommended me to Preston and I was invited here for a six-week trial. I used to train on Wednesday nights at Preston with Alan Kelly and Jack Cudworth, the academy goalkeeper coach.
They signed me up for the academy after two weeks of the six-week trial.
I was made up to be signed for an academy and I have worked hard to get to the stage where I got my first professional contract during this season.
I’ll keep on working harder than ever to improve and get more experienced.
Since I began training with the first-team squad every day earlier in the season, I feel I have developed as a player.
To train with someone as experienced as Chris Kirkland on a daily basis, and with the advice I get from Alan Kelly, can only be of benefit.
Kirky has been great with me, passing on advice and helping me in any way he can.
I don’t turn 18 until July, so I’m still something of a baby in terms of my career.