Exclusive Paul Gallagher PNE column

Challenging for the ball against Barnsley in September
Challenging for the ball against Barnsley in September

A big part of our game earlier in the season was keeping clean sheets and we have to get back to doing that.

Obviously we have been conceding too many goals in the last few matches and we have hit this sticky patch.

If we can stop leaking goals and get a few clean sheets, we know that we have players at the other end of the pitch who can create and take chances.

It is up to us to do that, show the togetherness and spirit which is a lot of what we are about here.

In my time here, we have tended to bounce back after a bit of a dodgy spell, they haven’t tended to drag on too long.

The last couple of defeats have come at a time when we’ve had an horrendous list of injuries.

We are not talking about them being spread over a few positions, in the second half against Aston Villa we were without two entire back fours.

I’ve been in the game a fair few years now and I’ve never known such a concentration of injuries in one area.

Any team in the world faced with a situation like ours would struggle with having to patch-up the back four.

I used to play sweeper as a kid so perhaps I’m next on the list to play in defence!

Alan Browne dropped back to play in the back four against Villa and I thought he did a good job.

When you’ve played in a certain position for quite a few seasons, it can be hard to adapt to another role.

So every credit to Browney, although I suspect he will be glad to be back in the midfield.

Andy Boyle came in and did well on Wednesday night and a big thing for Saturday’s trip to Ipswich will be Paul Huntington being back from suspension.

Without him, we let in our first goal from a corner this season against Villa.

Hunts is a big part of our organisation at set-pieces with his size, so we clearly missed him on this occasion.

Villa were always going to be tough opponents, even had we had more of our lads available.

All over the pitch they have a lot of experience and to give them a 2-0 lead left us with an uphill struggle.

You saw the experience of John Terry come through, James Chester too.

Players like that know when to shut up shop and take the sting out of a game.

From a personal point of view, it was nice to get on and play 45 minutes.

My aim was to get on the ball and bring a little bit more calmness to us.

We probably had a bit more time on the ball than we thought because Villa were content to sit in a bit and soak up pressure.

Villa are not a side full of young lads like Brentford were – they don’t sprint and dart around you.

They’d drop in, soak up pressure and then have a couple of attacks.

What we needed in the second half was to have a few more passes, get up the pitch and work an angle to get some crosses in.

I was trying to work that with Darnell Fisher on the right-hand side, get him into a position to put first-time crosses in for Jordan Hugill.

We had to take a few risks because we were losing 2-0 but it was just one of those nights where it wasn’t to be.

The Villa game was my first slice of action since we played Cardiff in September.

I’ve had shingles and it was not a great experience, it’s got to be said.

I came on for five minutes against Cardiff, thinking I could get a goal because of how well we were playing.

But I felt drained, didn’t have any energy.

We trained the day after and did some running, which I’m normally at the front of.

Again though, I didn’t have any energy and I told the sports science lad Luke Hemmings that I was really struggling.

That night I was in bed a lot earlier than usual and I woke in the early hours with a tingling feeling down the right-hand side of my face.

I had some tests done the next day. One of the things they found was that my blood pressure was low because my body was fighting the virus.

The doctor put me on medication for a couple of weeks and I had to spend a week away from training.

That was difficult because I’m used to training each day.

I don’t think in my time here I had missed a day’s training because of illness.

I’m feeling better now and have done a lot of fitness work to get up to speed.

To be honest, it has been a stop-start season for me so far.

I had a tight hamstring in pre-season which kept me out of a few friendlies, and then in the Derby game got a bang on the head which left me concussed.