Exclusive PNE Ben Pringle column
Pre-season is done and now we are ready for the first Championship game of the season at Reading this weekend.
Coming back after the summer holiday and starting training is something which players rarely look forward to.
But once you get going and your fitness starts coming back, it feels good to be back out on the pitch again.
These days, the majority of players keep themselves in very good shape during the summer, so starting training again isn’t the struggle it once was.
Since signing for Preston a few days into pre-season, I have really enjoyed the work we have done and having the opportunity to get to know the rest of the lads.
The friendly games have enabled us to steadily get the necessary match sharpness.
I scored my first North End goal away to Morecambe last week.
It was quite a good goal – I had a left-foot shot from outside the box which went in off the post.
While I do like to try my luck with shots from outside the box, at Morecambe I might have been tempted to take the ball a bit closer in because there was room opening up.
But my legs were a bit heavy having also trained earlier in the day, so I decided to have a shot from where I did rather then run a few yards further.
I hit it quite sweetly and in it went. I’m happy to shoot from anywhere if I think I’ve got half a chance of scoring.
Down the years in my career, I’ve scored quite a few goals and like any player – it is a great feeling to see the ball hit the back of the net.
Hopefully, I can get among the goals for Preston this season and a repeat of the one at Morecambe would be nice.
As the pre-season has gone on, as we have trained and played the friendlies, you can see progress being made and the team developing.
Training this week has been focusing on the Reading game – a little bit about how they play but more about what we want to do.
It is a little bit of fine-tuning because all the lads are fit and sharp now.
There are plenty of options for the gaffer and whichever side he chooses at Reading, it will be a strong XI.
While I have only been at Preston for a few weeks, the first impressions have been very good.
There are other clubs in the division with bigger squad and much bigger budgets.
Here, we have got a good group of lads who work so hard and fight for each other, that can take us a long way.
A lot of the players have the ability to play in more than one position, which is a bonus.
That enables the gaffer to play different systems and move people around if he thinks that is of benefit.
You need versatility like that within your squad in the Championship.
The division tests you, it is a battle from the word go with a lot of midweek football – Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday.
I love the challenge of it all and if a team does well, that is not by accident – you really have to earn things.
Come up short any time and you soon know about it.
There are different kinds of pressure throughout the division.
The teams coming down from the Premier League – Newcastle, Aston Villa and Norwich – are under pressure to go straight back up.
Those who missed out on promotion in May in the play-offs, will want to challenge again – Derby, Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday.
Then there is the group of clubs who were just below the play-off pack – Ipswich where I went on loan last season – and ourselves included.
We will all be looking to push on and improve on what was done last year.
You have got teams like Wigan coming up from League One, who will fancy their chances of another promotion push.
There are some fixtures which stand out, both for the club and individually.
When I first signed for Preston, I had a look at the list and obviously Fulham jumped out, as they were the club I joined from.
Fulham is our first game at home in the league a week on Saturday, so it is quick reunion for me.
Mind you, we played them in Ireland last month so I can’t seem to shake them off!
I also looked out for the games against Rotherham and Newcastle.
Rotherham was a club where I spent four years and had a great time at, with plenty of success.
As for Newcastle, I was born just down the road from there in Whitley Bay.
Over the years, I have lost my North East accent – that is something which a few people have commented on.
But I did spend much of my younger years in that part of the world.
When I was 15, the Sunday league team I played for, had a game against West Bromwich Albion’s Under-15s academy team.
I must have played well that day because I ended up signing for Albion and doing my two-year scholarship there.
Since signing for Preston, I have been staying in a hotel locally but in the next few weeks, I’ll be moving into my own place.
I’ve got Callum Robinson for company in the hotel – he is in the next room and keeps me entertained.
Callum is a great lad with a good sense of humour and maybe when I get my house, I can persuade him to move next door!
Being in a hotel is great for a short space of time but after a while, the novelty does wear off a bit.
While I’ll be checking out of the hotel here soon, it was a different thing when I signed for Fulham last year.
I was in a hotel for two or three months, which is a bit of a different world.
Getting your own place sorted is a big thing when you move clubs and helps you settle in.