Huntington hails Maxwell as PNE’s player of the year so far

Preston North End's Chris Maxwell.
Preston North End's Chris Maxwell.
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Paul Huntington believes Chris Maxwell is Preston North End’s player of the season so far.

The central defender played in front of the North End goalkeeper on his return to the side in the 2-1 win at Bristol City on Saturday.

The summer signing from League One Fleetwood started the campaign as number two to the more experienced Anders Lindegaard but has quickly deposed the former Manchester United man.

Maxwell hasn’t looked back since playing in the 3-2 EFL Cup win at Bournemouth back in September, his regular spot in the side coinciding with a real upturn in Preston’s fortunes after a slow start to the season.

Huntington isn’t the first member of the PNE backline to heap praise on the Welshman, his mobility and willingness to sweep proving a real asset as Simon Grayson’s Lilywhites have moved up to 11th in the Championship, five points off the play-offs.

“Chris has been great,” said Huntington, who will be hoping to keep his place to face former club Leeds on Boxing Day.

“He’s probably been our best player this season.

“He’s kept us in so many games, even at Forest (where an unlucky Maxwell own goal handed the hosts a point).

“Every time they had a chance he was a brick wall.

“It’s great to have that confidence.

“He’s a sweeper ‘keeper, you know that he’s going to start high.

“It allows the defence to keep a high line.

“He’s been in fantastic form and long may that continue.”

Huntington’s return at Ashton Gate was a surprise one, his height being preferred by Grayson as Bailey Wright dropped to the bench.

It was the 29-year-old’s first start since the 6-0 EFL Cup hammering at his former club Newcastle United at the end of October.

Huntington, who had come off the bench late on in the win over Blackburn Rovers and the draw with Nottingham Forest, was as reliable as ever and continued the trend of PNE players seemingly coming in from the cold to impress.

Maxwell did just that earlier in the season while Ben Pearson is also in contention to be considered the player of the year so far despite having barely kicked a ball in anger until the same Bournemouth cup tie that heralded the goalkeeper’s arrival on the scene.

As for the last week, Alan Browne enjoyed two strong performances in the middle of the park and Simon Makienok looks to be the main man up front for now having come in for Jordan Hugill and scored against both Forest and the Robins.

“In the last 20 minutes I thought I’d tire having not played for quite a few weeks,” said Huntington, who along with captain Tom Clarke marshalled the impressive Tammy Abraham at Ashton Gate.

“We’ve had a few bounce games and what not and I felt good and felt strong.

“I’ve come on as sub in the last couple of games but it was a lot for the lads who played Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday.

“You could see some were struggling through it but the character’s the most pleasing thing.”