Paul Huntington says PNE boss Simon Grayson lifted a dark cloud that hung over PNE during former gaffer Graham Westley’s reign.
Westley’s 13-month tenure ended after a 3-1 defeat to tomorrow’s opponents Yeovil at Huish Park on February, 13, 2013.
Twenty months on, Grayson’s title-chasing PNE are preparing to return to the scene of the crime.
Ex-Yeovil man Huntington is one of two fit surviving starters from Westley’s last act as PNE boss and he – and skipper John Welsh – are both expected to start again tomorrow as North End travel to face the Glovers.
And the defender believes PNE are facing his former club with a complete different ethos as current boss Grayson has restored a winning mentality.
He said: “Certainly the mentality has changed…it is all about winning now.
“Obviously it is really different, the atmosphere – it is a happy place to come to work.
“It is sort of back to being a normal football club again and one where you can enjoy your football, which I think is important.”
North End are third in the League One table and Huntington believes their performances on the pitch reflect the positive team spirit Grayson has instilled since arriving.
Huntington said: “Training is enjoyable under Simon – it is a good place to come to work.
“I think that has shown on the pitch, even last year when we won a lot of games. We have shown that again this season…everyone is enjoying it and playing with a smile on their face.”
With Tom Clarke a doubt for tomorrow’s clash and Bailey Wright still injured, Huntington has come out of the shadows to be Grayson’s first-choice central defender.
And he has made an impact up the other end too, scoring on his first league start of the season against Gillingham, in PNE’s 2-0 win over Leyton Orient and then converting North End’s 10th penalty in their mammoth 10-9 shootout victory against Oldham Athletic in the JPT on Tuesday night.
And Huntington admitted there were a few players reluctant to step up.
He said: “We got to about six or seven and then it was just, ‘Go on… you go next’. There was me, David Buchanan and Scott Wiseman all edging each other forward and it kind of went a bit like that for some while.
“There were a few hiding – it is just one of those things with penalties, you just pick your side and it is the first one I’ve actually taken in a competitive game and I scored, so I’m really pleased.
“I wouldn’t say you aren’t nervous. I just think for me personally I was just glad that it was out of the way.
“When you’ve scored and you are back on the halfway line with your team-mates you still don’t think it will get that far towards the end.
“A few of the lads were saying the German’s don’t miss so we have had a bit of a laugh with Stucki and he scored the winner after me.
“Hopefully we won’t have to go through that again.”
The win came on the back of PNE’s vital 1-0 victory over League One leaders Bristol City last Saturday.
Grayson made a big call before kick-off, dropping Jamie Jones to the bench in favour of Stuckmann.
The big German kept a clean sheet and Huntington was pleased by the fact the imposing 6ft 5in keeper came out to help the defence by claiming some crosses.
He said: “Thorsten is a huge physical presence, even with the penalties the other night he’s a big target. He’s a big guy and I think he just uses that really.
“On Saturday he was coming for a few crosses, which helped us out really as defenders. Even Jamie, when he has played, has done really well.”
The 27-year-old has been an ever-present since returning to the starting XI against Gillingham in October and he admitted it was tough being overlooked. He said: “I think if I was a bit younger I might have gone the other way and sulked.
“Obviously when I’ve been out of the team it was tough and mentally tough as much as keeping yourself right physically.
“But I’ve always showed willing and put in the extra work with the fitness coaches. I’ve always kept the right attitude, I think that is important.
“Hopefully I can stay in the team and we can keep winning.”
Huntington joined PNE from Yeovil in 2012 and the defender is expecting a scrappy clash against the division’s 22nd-placed team.
He said: “I enjoyed my time at Yeovil. I was there for two years, I have good memories.
“It isn’t an easy place to go. In the winter the pitch cuts up quite badly and it might be a bit of a scrappy game.
“It is another game. You approach it a little bit differently but I have been back once before it is just like another fixture now.
“When I was there for the first 18 months I had Terry Skiverton who was the manager – he’s assistant now.
“They have kind of struggled, they have been a bit inconsistent so far but they had a good away win against Notts County last week so they will be full of confidence.”