Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press Talk: Rafferty’s no ordinary Joe
Joe Rafferty deserves a pat on the back that Preston’s left-back role has not been a talking point in the last month, something it potentially could have been.
We have made reference to the fact Rafferty, who is a right-back by trade, has been filling in on the other side of the defence.
But there have been no disaster stories, no major leakage of goals due to the stand-in being caught out.
As action resumes after the international break, PNE have only lost the one game with Rafferty at left-back.
In that one at Swansea four weeks ago, Rafferty scored – his annual goal as he described it.
A natural left-back has not been available to North End since the second game of the season.
In stoppage time of the 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic, Hughes pulled up at the end of an overlapping run. That was a run Hughes didn’t need to make, such was the scoreline, nor one the Welshman wished he had made.
We have not seen him since, Hughes’ hamstring going on him – an injury he missed the final two months of last season with.
With Josh Earl out on loan at Bolton and so unluckily injured 20 minutes into his debut, the left-back slot was suddenly an issue.
Hence the pat on the back for Rafferty for shifting sides and keeping things ticking over nicely. The ex-Rochdale man is not the flashiest of players in a position which is not the flashiest.
But he’s gone about the job without any drama and seems to be revelling in it.
Speaking to him during the week, he was engaging company discussing the move to left-back.
What Rafferty was keen to get across was that he was not there just to ‘make up the numbers’ – his phrase.
He was in the side to make a difference, not fill a gap, by playing in a position which was not his usual role but one he had operated in before.
When Hughes does get back to full fitness, you get the impression Rafferty won’t want to let go of the shirt without a good fight.
He will want to give Alex Neil something to mull over rather than allow it to be straightforward decision.
That all said, a return to the squad for Hughes will be welcome – the more players at Neil’s disposal, the better.
Hughes proved himself to be a very good left-back last season, growing steadily into the job.
It might have taken him a couple of months to get used to the Championship but from late autumn onwards he impressed consistently.
He had big boots to fill in that he was the replacement for Greg Cunningham, a hard act to follow.
But Hughes came in and did an impressive job.
It was interesting in the summer when Cunningham was made available by Cardiff and was to end up on loan at Blackburn.
There were calls for North End to try and get him back in light of needing another left-back to cover Earl’s departure on loan.
Could they have fitted both Hughes and Cunningham in the same squad, having one of them sat on the bench or in the stand?
Looking back over the last few years, left-back has been a position which North End have filled well.
If you return as far back as when David Moyes was in charge, there was Rob Edwards and Ryan Kidd.
Moving the clock on, Callum Davidson impressed there. There was even a spell when Graham Alexander swapped sides – in the way Rafferty has done – to fill in on the left.
Scott Laird and David Buchanan were recruited during Graham Westley’s stewardship and progressed to play under Simon Grayson.
Then came Cunningham and how well he played for three years – to think he was a free transfer too.
Back to the present day and it would not be a surprise to see Rafferty at left-back again when Brentford visit Deepdale, the hint from Neil during the week that perhaps Saturday was too soon for Hughes to come back.
Clashes with Brentford have been common in recent years, this the sixth season out of the last seven the two clubs have been in the same division.
The exception was the 2014/15 campaign, the Bees having been promoted a year before Preston followed them up to the Championship.
In the four years since, they have never been too far apart in the table come the end of the season.
When North End finished 11th two seasons running, Brentford were ninth and then 10th.
In 2017/18, Neil’s men ended in seventh place with the London outfit two places behind.
Last season, Brentford’s 11th place finish played PNE’s 14th.
Can one of them pull away this campaign to challenge at the top end?
Neither club fall into the division’s ‘big club’ category and have to operate a bit differently to the ones with the bigger bank balances and those with parachute money.
Both North End and the Bees look for rough diamonds and polish them up, tending to sell a few on for big profits.
They look in different markets though – Brentford shop abroad quite a bit and will pay much bigger fees to start with, selling for bigger too.
It is a slightly different scale at Preston, the market having predominantly been Leagues One and Two with a lower initial outlay.
The profits have still been good – think Cunningham, Callum Robinson and Jordan Hugill of late.
But that has not matched say the £20m Brentford got for Neal Maupay or £12m for Ezri Konsa in the summer. However, the prices Brentford paid in the first place were a lot higher.
A similar approach then, just done on a different scale. And still there is little to separate the two clubs. that Hughes wasn’t quite ready yet – nearer a return than say Sean Maguire and Tom Barkhuizen but maybe this weekend is too soon.
Meanwhile, congratulations to Alan Browne on scoring his first goal for the Republic of Ireland in midweek.
The midfielder got on the scoresheet against Bulgaria at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, setting the Irish on their way to a 3-1 victory.
It was a close-range tap-in from Browne but so what? His name is down on official records as an international goalscorer.
Browne was further out than David Nugent was when he found the net for England against Andorra in 2007.
I’m sure that has been a topic for discussion between Browne and Nugent in the dressing room since his return from international duty.
It could well be that Browne finds himself on the bench against Brentford unless another emergency stint at right-back beckons.
He is behind Daniel Johnson in the pecking order for the advanced midfield role – I won’t call it the No.10 position after what Johnson said about that tag this week – so Browne might have to be patient.
But his international goal will have done his confidence a world of good and hopefully more will follow.