Joe Rafferty is enjoying being 'Rafu' in Preston North End's back four
Joe Rafferty might have expected to play the occasional game at left-back when he joined Preston North End.
Signed in January from Rochdale primarily to boost right-back cover, Rafferty had a few appearances as a left-back on his football CV.
He knew what North End wanted from him – push for the right-back shirt while being prepared to shift over to the other side of the back four if needed in an emergency.
That call came early in the season and more than three months on, Rafferty is still playing at left-back.
He is doing the job rather well, to the extent PNE fans have nicknamed him ‘Rafu’ in a nod to legendary Brazil full-back Cafu.
Sixteen of Rafferty’s 17 games this season have come at left-back – he came on as a substitute at right-back in the win at Birmingham.
A succession of injuries suffered by Andrew Hughes have led to Rafferty answering the left-back call.
Hughes was a consistent performer last season and made the left-back shirt his own, filling the big boots left for him by Greg Cunningham’s sale.
Now it is Rafferty catching the eye and he is enjoying the challenge of operating consistently down the left.
“I’m just trying to do my best,” said the 26-year-old.
“I really don’t mind where I’m asked to play just as long as I’m on the pitch. Left-back is a position I’m getting used to, it is getting a bit easier to play there.
“You get a different type of test every week, teams will play different formations where they use players down your side of the pitch in a certain way.
“That is something which the manager tries to alert you to in the build-up to the game, he gives you advice on what you might be facing.
“Playing at left-back is going well, we have been going well this season and we want that to continue.
“The good thing here is that you get a lot of help from the lads on the pitch. If you are struggling, they will get round you and help you.
“We don’t leave a player on their own to struggle. Playing left-back is not totally new to me, when I
was at Rochdale I played right-back, left-back, centre-half and even in midfield.
“It’s been nice to have a regular start this season and long may that continue.”
Rafferty and his Preston team-mates head to Hull City on Wednesday night, looking to bounce back from the 1-0 defeat at Derby County.
Defeats have been rare this season but two of them have come in the games after an international break.
It is a puzzle to Rafferty why that is but his focus is now on bouncing back at the KCOM Stadium.
Said Rafferty: “I’m not sure why we’ve had these defeats after international breaks.
“You look at the stats with our running and we’ve done as much, if not more, than usual.
“Maybe it is coincidence that we haven’t performed well in the games after the last two breaks.
“We didn’t play well at Reading last month and we didn’t start well at Derby but we got better in the second half.
“The Derby game is gone now, we lost and we have to put it behind us.
“During the course of the season you will lose matches and it is about responding in the right way.
“Hull will be a tough one, I watched them on TV when they played Middlesbrough on Sunday.
“They went 2-0 down but Middlesbrough having a player sent off changed the game. Hull took advantage and came back very well to draw 2-2.
“They have got some good players in their squad. On the wings they have Kamil Grosicki and Jarrod Bowen, with Tom Eaves up front.
“Bowen has scored a lot of goals and he came on as a substitute in the cup game at our place and scored. If I’m picked, I’m going to be up against either Bowen or Grosicki.
“Hull will probably say their form has been a bit mixed this season.
“But they’ve got their threats and we will have to play well if we are to get a result over there.”
As Rafferty referenced, North End met Hull in the League Cup at Deepdale in August.
It was a game in which PNE took a 2-0 lead through goals from Paul Huntington and Josh Harrop.
Josh McGennis pulled one back for the Tigers before Bowen equalised in the 90th minute to take it to penalties.
Alex Neil’s men won the shootout 5-4 to set up a third round meeting with Manchester City.
Rafferty said: “Both sides made a lot of changes that night so it will probably be a lot different this time.
“We’ll both probably want to play in a similar way but just with different lads.
“We’ve watched clips and worked on how they play.”