PNE right-back Fisher proving his doubters wrong
Darnell Fisher's arrival at Deepdale raised a few eyebrows on the other side of the Pennines.
The right-back was very much seen as part of the problem by Rotherham fans as the Millers were relegated from the Championship last season after conceding 98 goals.
To say he was given something of a send-off would be an understatement, his stay at the New York Stadium lasting just 12 months despite signing a three-year deal when he left Celtic in the summer of 2016.
The 23-year-old has been an ever-present in the league under Alex Neil however, with his part in four clean sheets in five games seeing him nominated for the first player of the month award of the season.
His new manager’s backing has played a big part in Fisher’s revival in Lancashire.
“People look at it and see Rotherham got relegated and conceded a lot of goals when I was playing,” he said.
“But the manager said to me, ‘Don’t worry about that, I know what you can do’.
“His faith in me has really helped. “I’ve settled in really well.
“I think the games coming thick and fast has helped too. You’ve just got to get on with it.
“The manager’s given me confidence and all the lads have helped me out as well since I’ve come.
“It’s a good dressing room and I’m really happy here.”
Another man who has helped him feel right at home is Paul Huntington, the Lilywhites stalwart having played every minute alongside the new arrival in a promising start to the Championship season.
With Fisher part of a young, emerging group of players at North End, part of Huntington’s role at the age of 29 is to be a leader on and off the field, something which Fisher is feeling the benefits of.
“Hunts has helped me settle in, I sit next to him in the dressing room as well so we talk all the time,” he said.
“On the pitch I’ve played next to him the whole time and it’s been good to know that I’ve been playing next to him.
“We can rely on each other now.
“We go out there and talk to each other to get through the games.
“He’s one of the most experienced guys in the dressing room and is wearing the armband through the injuries we’ve got.”
The pair are part of a wider defensive resilience in Neil’s first few games in charge.
Matej Vydra’s match-winning penalty at Derby County back on August 15 is the only goal conceded as eight points have been picked up from a tough opening five fixtures.
While Fisher has been singled out for praise by the Football League’s panel, he believes it could have been anyone in the back five making the August shortlist.
“It’s good to be recognised but as a team and as a back four we’ve done really well,” he said.
“They’ve picked me out but they could have picked anyone from the back four or the keeper as well.
“Obviously it’s a nice feeling to be nominated but everyone as a whole has done really well.
“Josh Earl’s come in and done really well and Ben Davies has come in and done equally well too.
“Even out of the team, Calum Woods has come back so it’s a strong set-up.
“There are a lot of good players here.
“We train really hard and the manager really pushes us.
“The competition is only good for the team.”
It even goes beyond the defensive unit, Neil’s high-intensity style of play meaning Preston now defend from the front.
Pressing from forward players has been one of the noticeable differences since the new man took over from Simon Grayson back in July, North End not giving other sides a moment to settle on the ball.
“If we win the ball back higher up the pitch then it takes a lot of pressure off the defence,” Fisher said.
“If they can keep doing that then that’s obviously less work for us.
“But then when we’ve had to defend, we’ve done that.
“It’s just building as the season goes on.
“We’ll use the clean sheets as a positive, keep going and hopefully keep being tight at the back and see where it takes us.
“We can’t rest on it and just think the defence is always going to be reliable though because we know anything can happen in football.”
After a promising start to the Championship season, PNE currently seventh in the early table, the challenge is now to build on it in another busy month of fixtures.
Back-to-back home games –Barnsley first up at Deepdale on Saturday before table-topping Cardiff visit Lancashire on Tuesday – look like the perfect opportunity to do that after the international break.
“The first month was hard but that’s the league,” said Fisher.
“There are a lot of good teams and anyone can beat anyone as everyone always says, and that’s right.
“Our next run of games will be tough as well but we’re in good form and we fancy our chances.
“I think we needed the international break after the tough start we had.
“We needed to get our legs back together and get our minds back together and now we’re ready to go again.”
The main thing being worked on over the enforced break was an added sharpness in the final third, with just two goals scored in the opening five games.
Only Jordan Hugill’s winner against Reading has come from open play.
“We’ve not scored as many goals as we would have liked but that’ll come because we’ve had a lot of chances,” said Fisher.
“Once we get one I think they’ll flow in.
“The way we play is good and it’s only going to get better.
“People might look at the Barnsley game as one where we’re favourites but we can’t go into it with that mentality because that’s when you can get done.
“We need to keep up what we’ve been doing, start well and see what happens from there.
“They got a win in their last game so it will be a tough game. We’re ready for it.”