Huntington wants to make a happy Leeds return

Paul Huntington in defensive mode against Fulham
Paul Huntington in defensive mode against Fulham
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Paul Huntington will be one of a number of Leeds old boys returning to Elland Road with Preston North End on Sunday.

The central defender spent two-and-a-half years with the West Yorkshire outfit after signing from Newcastle, working under three different managers.

It is more than five years since he left, spells at Stockport and Yeovil following, before his arrival at PNE in July 2012.

“I’m looking forward to going back, as are quite a few people at the club,” Huntington told the Evening Post.

“Neil Kilkenny and Jermaine Beckford played there and obviously some of the coaching staff were previously at Leeds.

“It has been a while since I played for Leeds, it was much earlier in my career when I was there,

“Dennis Wise was the manager who signed me, he had Gus Poyet as his assistant.

“Then Gary McAllister came in before our gaffer, Simon Grayson, took over.

“It is a big football club with a lot of history and great supporters.

“My focus is on playing for Preston and we will be trying to get ourselves three points .”

On the staff side, it is a return to Leeds for Grayson, Glynn Snodin and Steve Thompson.

Snodin was Grayson’s No.2 at Elland Road, while Thompson had a stint there as assistant coach to Neil Redfearn last season.

North End cross the Pennines in decent form, having been beaten just once in 11 games since the return to action after the October international break.

They are currently four games unbeaten, a 1-1 draw at Fulham followed by wins over Burnley and Reading.

On Tuesday night, they drew 1-1 with Birmingham at Deepdale, a game in which they rather rode their luck in the second half as the Blues piled on the pressure.

Huntington said: “Away from home, we have been getting back to basics and implementing a system which has been working well for us.

“At Burnley a couple of weeks ago, we made ourselves hard to beat and were a bit less open.

“On Tuesday night at home, we were a bit stretched when we were pushing to try and get a win rather than be compact.

“Our performance in the second half against Birmingham was a bit jaded.

“The pitch had been heavy when we beat Reading last Saturday and maybe that took its toll on us.

“So to have the extra recovery day before going to Leeds on Sunday, is welcome.

“Having set some high standards lately, we played poorly in the second half.

“But we still managed to collect a point against a good side who counter-attacked well.

“We now move on from that and get ready to play Leeds and then the Christmas games.

“Hopefully we can get some good results in this period and put some points on the board.

“The Birmingham draw took us on to 25 points which I think is pretty decent.

“There are quite a few teams bunched up around us.

“Three points could move us up as high as 11th or 12th.

“Although we didn’t play too well in the second half on Tuesday, maybe we will benefit from having played a midweek game ahead of the Christmas programme.

“There hadn’t been a midweek game for a while – it was the first one I had started for about three months because of the injury I had.

“To get a couple of games in a short space of time into the legs won’t do us any harm.”

Huntington has re-established himself back in the Preston defence in recent weeks.

After being a key figure in North End’s promotion campaign – scoring at Wembley – he began this season as a regular in the team.

A hamstring injury kept him sidelined for a month in the autumn, before he was eased back into action with four appearances from the bench.

He got back into the team against Queens Park Rangers at the start of November and has stayed in the side since.

Sunday’s game will be his 100th league start for PNE, provided he makes the starting XI.

The North End’s squad schedule this week included a visit to the children’s ward at the Royal Hospital to hand out presents to young patients.

Huntington said: “What you hope for when you see the children in hospital, is that they get well enough in time to go home for Christmas.

“This is a special time of the year and hopefully most of them can enjoy it at home.

“If they have to stay in hospital, they are in excellent hands because we have all seen how dedicated and kind the staff are.

“We brought some presents in for the children and hopefully that helped cheer them up.

“As a footballer, you do tend to get into a bit of a bubble.

“You think football and results are the be all and end all in life.

“ The Christmas visit to hospital puts things into perspective and makes us realise how privileged we are to do the job which we do.

“Visiting the hospital is an important part of our job, the kids enjoy it and we do.

“If we can put smiles on faces and give them a few Christmas treats, that is great.”