Hunts wants to finish season on a high after more Preston progress
Paul Huntington believes Preston North End's disappointment at missing out on a play-off spot shows just how far the club has come.
The Lilywhites flirted with the top six for large parts of the season but have fallen away in recent weeks.
Four straight defeats mean they head into Saturday’s Deepdale clash with relegated bottom side Rotherham in 11th spot.
It is the same position that North End finished in on their return to the Championship last season with Simon Grayson’s side, now determined to improve on that in their closing two games against the Millers and at Wolves on the final day on May 7.
“We’ve been looking at some of the teams who were around us when we came into the Championship,” said Huntington, who is likely the captain the side this weekend.
“Swindon and Chesterfield were in the play-offs and they now find themselves in League Two.
“It just shows what a difference a couple of seasons can make.
“I think it shows the progression we’ve made that we’re disappointed to be where we are and hopefully we can improve again.”
That doesn’t mean anyone working day in and day out at Springfields is ready to let the season peter out.
“I think the group of players we’ve got and the staff deserve to finish higher than the position we’re in and it’s up to us to do that now,” said Huntington.
“Three or four points was about as close as we got to the play-offs and then we lost at Fulham.
“It shows we’ve progressed and we’re not just happy to let the season trundle along.
“The last few results haven’t gone our way but we want to do something about that.
“We’re not resting on our laurels, we’re wanting to put that right so when we break up it’s on the back of some positive results heading into next season.”
The uncharacteristic slump in recent weeks has seen PNE ship 13 goals in their last four games against some of the top sides in the second tier.
Grayson’s side have come up short against Leeds, Huddersfield, Norwich and Newcastle, the latter sealing promotion back to the Premier League with their 4-1 win over the Lilywhites on Monday night.
“It’s been a disappointment,” said Huntington.
“We’ve not defended as well as we have for a large part of the season. We’ve let in sloppy goals, especially with the set-plays the other night.
“In general play I thought the shape was quite good but we’ve just switched off at key moments in games.
“That’s probably why we’ve not picked up as many points as we’d have liked.
“It’s a concentration thing.
“It is late on in the season and we’ve lost a few personnel but we’ve spoken about getting back to basics.
“Hopefully we can we can bounce back with three points on Saturday and finish the season strongly.”
As Huntington suggests, the back line has seen plenty of upheaval in the losing run.
Captain Tom Clarke will be ruled out until well into next season after rupturing his Achilles tendon against former club Huddersfield with Greg Cunningham then suffering a fractured tibia in the defeat to Norwich.
Alex Baptiste had previously been sent off against Leeds and could return against Rotherham on Saturday.
“It’s not an excuse,” said Huntington.
“But I played with Tom even when I was young in England youth so we know each other’s games inside out.
“It’s the same with Greg, I know what I’m going to get from him.
“It’s never easy for different personnel. The back line’s been upset a little by three or four changes.
“I know that happens but it can affect things.
“It’s disappointing but on a positive we’ve got Callum Woods who joined in training for the first time this week.
“Tom’s long term but Greg is going to be fine for pre-season.
“Alex Baptiste is available again we played alongside each other against Bristol City.
“It’s not been ideal but it’s not about making any excuses.
“We’re better than we’ve shown of late. We have got to get on with it and do our jobs a little bit better.”
Looking back on the season as a whole, Huntington, the joint-longest serving player at the club with John Welsh, has enjoyed another good campaign.
After struggling for game-time early on, the 29-year-old has been a regular since the middle of December and made 36 appearances in total.
“In the early part of the season I was in and out of the team and had a spell of not playing,” he said.
“The team picked up some good results in October and November and I had to be patient.
“I’ve enjoyed being part of the side since early December and we’ve had some great results against very good teams who are up near the top end of the league.
“There’s always room to improve.
“I know I can do better personally and there’s more in the squad to hopefully go one better next season.
“That’s got to be the aim.”
First PNE must get the better of Rotherham, Paul Warne’s side having picked up just 21 points all season.
The Millers did, however, win for the first time in 17 games last time out, Tom Adeyemi’s goal handing them a 1-0 victory over Ipswich at the New York Stadium.
“It’s the last home game, we want to finish their on a high,” said Huntington.
“Overall at home we’ve been very good. We want to send the fans home happy.
“With the situation Rotherham are in they’ll be playing with no pressure, though.
“We need to make sure we’re right at our game and play with our tempo and play how we can at home.
“Hopefully we can get three points but it won’t be an easy game.
“There are no easy games in this league.”