Emil Riis opens up on 'horrible year' after long awaited Preston North End return

Emil Riis Emil Riis
Emil Riis | CameraSport - Andrew Kearns
The PNE striker returned to action against Sheffield Wednesday - after almost an entire year out through injury

It wasn't the fairytale return Emil Riis will have dreamt of - surely countless times - during those isolated and eerie Euxton afternoons. But, for someone who is not a massive fan of the gym - certainly not devoted to dumbbells and deadlifts anyway - simply being back on the football pitch in a Preston North End shirt is the best late Christmas present he could've asked for.

A mammoth 361 days on from that horrible one in Stoke - where Riis excruciatingly hurtled into the advertising boards - the Dane stepped back across the white line. Having been dealt the severest injury blow of his career by far, in the first match of 2023, Riis had to wait until the very last one to play football again. It's been one hell of a challenge.

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And it is now, with the second half of the season ahead, a case of making up for lost time. Riis' involvement was one of few positives from Friday night's drab defeat to Sheffield Wednesday. In the press room post-match, the Dane gave off the vibe of someone just taking everything back in his stride upon returning to normality. Despite the result, the happiness inside Riis was evident.

"I have been dreaming of this for a year now, so to finally be there is a great feeling," said Riis. "I have been around the group for a couple of months. For the first 10, I was really on my own, training on my own and watching all of the games from up here. Seeing them train, it was very lonely, but that's what it is and I'm through it now. Hopefully that is something I can take on further in my career; I've maybe learned to be more mature.

"I went in for a second operation a couple of months ago, to have a little clean up and that was really good for me. It made me feel better in the long run. I need to now find my feet again really, but I am doing everything I can to get back. My knee feels completely fine, it's more my fitness. I reckon, if I started a game, I would have to come off after half-an-hour or something - because my lungs would be blowing up!

"But, the body feels completely fine, it is just getting more and more minutes so I can get the fitness up. I have been doing a lot of gym work, so I feel stronger and hopefully quicker - because there's been high speed running as well. I feel ready and all that; it's just finding my feet. I am not a huge fan of the gym! But, that's what you've got to do as a professional footballer and that's what I had the time to do over the last 12 months. It's just got to be done.

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"I have never been out for more than a couple of weeks with small knocks, so it's been tough. At first, it was really tough because I didn't know how long it was going to be. All the boys have been very supportive and my family as well, they've been very kind and supported me as best as they can. It was great to hear all the fans and I've really missed that. It was definitely special for me and I'm happy to hear my name again."

A potential return for Riis was was touted in September by manager Ryan Lowe, but the 2021/22 top goal scorer ended up undergoing further surgery. That operation pushed Riis back more than three months, but it's a decision he is delighted to have made.

"Yeah, I did it on the second of January and it's usually around nine months from then," added the PNE man. "I just wasn't ready and went in for a second operation. I am really happy I did that, because I've got many more years to come and for me to have that done - for the long run - is so much better. It's crazy (thinking back to Stoke). It has been a horrible year for me, football wise. I still remember it, the feeling of the pop inside my knee. I will never forget that feeling."

North End had a great Boxing Day against Leeds United, but it was back down to earth against Danny Rohl's side. Preston head to Sunderland for an early kick off on New Year's Day next and, sitting around mid-table, the task for Ryan Lowe's side remains to improve form. It's four wins in 18 games and Riis is therefore hungry to contribute.

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"Exactly, yeah," said Riis. "We are just under the play-offs, so hopefully I can help the team to keep going. It's been up and down, obviously. But, I think we've played some really good games at times. If we can just find that consistency, we will beat a lot of teams in this league. We all know it's not good enough. We put a really good performance on the other day and needed to show it again. We now need to work harder. It's up and down with us sometimes, but we need to be better at punishing teams when we have the ball a lot."

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