Dave Seddon’s PNE Press View: Good to see Darnell Fisher back to his best

Darnell Fisher takes on Bolton winger Craig Noone
Darnell Fisher takes on Bolton winger Craig Noone

The real Darnell Fisher has come to the Preston party in the last few weeks and it’s been good to have him back.

Where he disappeared to in the first five months of the campaign is a mystery but the main thing now is that the right-back we grew to love last season is among us again.

It is the Fisher of old we are seeing, the starman on the right who North End fans sung about in 2017/18.

He had a hand in the first two goals against Norwich City on Wednesday night, earning the free-kick which led to Ben Davies heading home.

Then Fisher was fouled for the penalty, one which was driven into the net by Paul Gallagher.

Going the other way, he did his defensive duties with efficiency, as he had done in the last few games.

If there is a player who has mirrored PNE’s impressive return to form, it is Fisher.

Since getting his place back at Queens Park Rangers on January 19, he has rarely put a foot wrong.

In those five games, North End have shipped only three goals – all consolation efforts in the closing minutes.

Wind the clock back and Fisher struggled in the first half of the season.

He wasn’t alone on that score but the 24-year-old wasn’t even close to reaching the heights he had done in the last campaign.

So much so, Fisher lost his place to Tom Clarke from late October through to the middle of January.

He got the odd game in that time when Clarke’s nose was rearranged in a clash with Jordan Hugill’s head.

Birmingham City away, on December 1, was one of those games and if the truth be told, Fisher was poor. Credit where it is due, he has turned himself around and won back the faith of Alex Neil.

It could well be Fisher has benefited from playing in a side boosted by the return of team-mates from injury and by the January recruitment.

Let’s face it, so have the rest of the players when the current form is compared to the dip we saw at Christmas and into New Year – Aston Villa’s visit aside.

Could the signing of Joe Rafferty have been the jolt he needed?

It quickly became clear once the transfer window opened that defensive cover was on the shopping list, in particular a right-back.

Rafferty was the final piece of PNE’s recruitment in January, the Liverpudlian signing from Rochdale.

The fact he has not made a matchday squad to date is a sign of Fisher’s return to form.

Fisher knows he has both Rafferty and Clarke eyeing his slot in the back four.

As we know, competition for places is no bad thing.

His drop in form earlier in the season was something of a surprise, bearing in mind how he had played for much of last year.

Fisher had his doubters when he signed in July 2017 from Rotherham United.

The Millers supporters hardly gave him a glowing reference after a tough time for their club in 2016/17.

However, he soon settled in at Deepdale and nailed down the right-back role.

Hitting those heights again proved hard for him until the last month.

Listening to Neil this week, he name-checked a few defenders who found the going tough early on this season – Fisher one of them.

One piece of mitigation which the Preston boss put forward was the disruption higher up the pitch.

Neil reasoned that PNE defend from the front and that is a particular strength.

Losing the services of both Sean Maguire and Billy Bodin in the build-up to the campaign took away two of their front players who press and harry.

With the first line of the defence weakened, Neil points to the knock-on effect that had on the deeper lines.

It is an interesting view and has merit in it.

You could put Declan Rudd in that same category as Fisher.

He has clambered off the canvas and returned to show some very good form.

Rudd could have been sunk without trace by that blooper at Birmingham when he let a harmless ball through his legs and into the net for the Blues’ opener in a 3-0 defeat.

The goalkeeper is back in a better place now and fresh from winning the man of the match award against his old club Norwich.

He saved a penalty against the Canaries – the third time he has kept out a spot-kick this season after doing so at Swansea and Stoke.

On Wednesday night Rudd made five good saves, two from Teemu Pukki and the header he tipped over from Ben Godfrey catching the eye in particular.

At Bolton a week ago, he was redundant pretty much until he had to save from Josh Magennis two minutes into stoppage time.

Rudd needs to maintain those high standards over the coming months, so too all his team-mates.

The recent form has given us a glimmer of hope in terms of making a run for the play-offs.

It would take some doing and there are teams above them who hold a better 
hand.

With every good result though, the door opens that little bit more.

A tall order perhaps but not impossible.