Exclusive Tom Clarke PNE column

Tackling Hull striker Nouha Dicko at Deepdale
Tackling Hull striker Nouha Dicko at Deepdale

It was brilliant to be back on the bench and back involved in the squad for last week’s game after a few weeks out with a problem with my knee.

Being on the sidelines is always frustrating and I have spent plenty of time there over the last few months.

The knee injury was something which happened during the 2-1 win against Hull last month, although when I don’t know.

I played the full game without any problems and the day after it felt fine.

When it came to training on Monday and Tuesday my knee was sore and I knew something wasn’t right.

I went for a scan and it showed I had sprained two ligaments in there.

As I mentioned, I couldn’t remember feeling anything was wrong during the game.

But I must have stretched it at some point and maybe adrenaline got me through until the end.

When I had the scan, the radiologist put an estimate 
of me being out for four to 
six weeks.

I got back training in four and had a couple of sessions before the Fulham game.

Sometimes you pick up little injuries when you are coming back from a major injury.

I was out for seven months from the end of last season to November with the ruptured Achilles tendon.

From that injury I got back a little bit earlier than expected and to have made 12 starts has been great.

The knee injury was just an annoying setback rather than anything serious and it was a case of working with the physio and fitness staff to get back.

A lot of injuries have hit our defence this season and most of the lads at the back have had time out. But others have come in as the season has gone on and done a great job.

The competition is strong for places now and that is what you want, to be able to test yourself in training every day and then when the games come around.

We are now at the stage when we are down to single figures of matches left and things are really exciting.

This is what it is all about, you want to still be fighting for something as the season nears its end.

The lads have been doing brilliantly and we are in with a great shout of the top six.

We know that it is going to take a good run of results to get in there but I’m sure there will be plenty of twists and turns over the next few weeks.

There is a great belief from within the squad and that feeds down from the manager and his staff.

We are a hungry group of players who are pushing for more.

This is the stage of the season where you do have a little look at how other teams are doing.

Quite a few of the teams around us played on Tuesday night and I was keeping a check on the scores.

We go to Sunderland now looking to bounce back from the Fulham defeat.

I thought the lads were excellent against Fulham and certainly deserved to get something from the game.

The defeat was down to those fine margins and we have to make sure that over the coming weeks we are on the right side of those.

It is pretty surprising to see Sunderland down at the bottom of the table but it just shows how difficult this league is.

You look at some of the 
results there have been in the Championship – Aston Villa beat Wolves 4-1 and then lost 3-1 at home to QPR.

It is an unforgiving league and you have to be on your guard, no matter which team you are playing and at what end of the table they’re at.

With Sunderland, they have come down from the Premier League with the mentality of losing games and that has carried on to some extent this season.

They have got some very good players – there’s no doubt about that.

Look at Aiden McGeady, who was here last season, he can do something out of nothing.

So we need to be ready to deal with what Sunderland throw at us but at the same time, do what we want to do.

As in the last three games, we will be looking for Sean Maguire to continue finding the net.

It’s been great to have had him back from his injury and he’s picked up from where he left off.

Sean has made a really big impact with four goals in three games and has shown the different sides to his game.

He can hold the ball up, he’s good in the air and has a great leap.

Then he can also run in behind and cause problems that way.

He is someone that we missed for quite a while but hopefully Sean is making up for lost time and can keep finding the net.