A year is a long time in football – just ask Preston North End centre-back Paul Huntington.
This time last season, the ex-Newcastle and Leeds United defender was looking like he was heading out of the Deepdale exit door after being totally frozen out of the first-team picture.
But the 27-year-old went on to win his place back in the team and now finds himself as a Championship player after the Lilywhites secured promotion.
And there is a possibility he will lead his team-mates out on Tuesday night against Premier League Watford in the Capital One Cup second-round tie at Deepdale.
Huntington wore the armband for the first round of the competition in the absence of Tom Clarke and John Welsh, after manager Simon Grayson rotated his squad.
The big defender helped North End to a 3-1 victory over the Railwaymen and he admitted it was a proud moment for him to be named as captain.
“It was something I wasn’t really expecting,” Huntington said.
“Me and the manager had kind of a bit of a joke about it.
“He said, ‘I bet over a year ago, you wouldn’t have expected to wear the armband’.
“I said, ‘No, a year’s a long time in football’.
“He was laughing. It was nice – I really enjoyed it.
“I think there were a couple missing – Tom Clarke and, I think, John Welsh was on the bench.
“It was a nice moment for me but more importantly, we got the result on the night.
“It was quite a good performance considering in the first round we made five or six changes, and the players who came in did well.
“So it will be another tough test on Tuesday coming up against higher opposition, who have done well in getting in the Premier League.”
North End enjoyed success in the cup competitions last year.
They reached the semi-final stage of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and had a memorable run in the FA Cup – losing to Manchester United at Deepdale 3-1 in the fifth round.
With the club no longer involved in the JPT after its promotion to the second tier of English football, Huntington admits the Capital One Cup perhaps carries greater importance this season that it did last.
And as he well knows from last year, the cup games offer the fringe players in the squad to catch the eye of the manager.
“You kind of forget that we don’t have the JPT this season,” Huntington added
“You want to win any game and progress.
“If we do make a few changes, it does give opportunities.
“I was one of those in the early part of last season who was looking forward to the cup games because I wanted to come in and take that opportunity and try to do really well.
“So, obviously, tonight is really important for us and we will be going into it full of confidence after the performance we produced against Ipswich on Saturday.
“But we know that we are coming up against a strong team and we’re under no illusions that it’s going to be a tough ask to beat Watford.
“We are looking forward to it.”
Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to the Tractor Boys at Deepdale was the first time North End had conceded a goal this season in the league after registering clean sheets in their opening three games of the season.
Even then it took a clinical header from Brett Pitman and a ‘worldy’ from Ryan Fraser to breach North End’s defences.
Huntington and his fellow defenders such as Clarke and Bailey Wright have looked very comfortable at the higher level.
“I think that was the pleasing thing on Saturday,” he said.
“Ipswich are a good side, but we restricted them to a lot of long balls really and that’s all credit to us really.
“I think there are some very good teams in the Championship.
“But if we stick to our principles of working hard for each other and being hard to beat as the manager always says to us, it gives us a chance of winning any game.”
While defensively North End have been solid, they have only managed two goals in four league games.
But Huntington believes the return of Jermaine Beckford – who came on as a second half sub on Saturday – to full fitness will mean the Lilywhites are more potent in front of goal.
“The return of Jermaine was a big boost and hopefully he will get more game-time tonight to help us towards Saturday’s match at Hull.
“Jermaine and Joe Garner know each other’s games really well.”