Exclusive Paul Gallagher Preston North End column: Still going strong after 250 appearances

With Preston manager Alex Neil
With Preston manager Alex Neil

Did I think when I came back to Preston in 2013 that I would still be here more than five years later?

It is difficult to answer that question but I’ve loved every moment of my time here and I was delighted to sign a new contract last week.

When I joined Preston on loan from Leicester City in October 2013, it was a chance to play nearer home and there was almost a sense of unfinished business.

I’d had a loan spell here in 2007 when I was a Blackburn player and I didn’t produce my best form then.

Some people say they don’t have regrets but not playing that well in that first loan was a big regret of mine.

So coming back in 2013 was a chance to address that, help this club and get some football.

More than five years later I’m still here and now have 250 appearances for North End under my belt.

Since 2013 I have probably changed as a player – your game does change the older you get.

I’m fortunate in that I’m quite a technical player and have not really relied on my pace too much.

I have pictures in my head about where I want to play the ball before it comes to me, which is an art in itself.

That was something I had from an early age, when I was at Blackburn they used to call me a younger Teddy Sheringham.

I wasn’t that quick but I was an intelligent player, hence some of the older lads referring to me as ‘Teddy’.

When the former gaffer Simon Grayson brought me here, I played either on the left wing or right wing.

It was my job supplying crosses to Joe Garner and Kevin Davies.

The next season, the one in which we got promoted, I moved into midfield and played there a lot more.

There was myself, John Welsh and Daniel Johnson, while Neil Kilkenny used to come in and out.

I enjoyed that attacking midfield role – with Welshy playing behind, it gave me the licence to express myself.

In our first season in the Championship, Simon moved me into a deeper role in midfield, with that seeing me get on the ball earlier in the play.

He probably sensed I was getting a bit older and that I read the game differently to some of the other lads from that position.

Funnily enough, my first game playing deeper was away to Charlton Athletic and I scored twice that night.

I mentioned earlier my first loan spell with Preston in 2007.

To start with it was Paul Simpson as manager, then Alan Irvine took over after a few months.

It was probably towards the end of the loan after Alan had arrived that I started to find my feet.

He started playing me just off the main striker – I think it was Neil Mellor.

Simon Whaley was on one wing and Paul McKenna the other, with Darren Carter in the midfield.

A game which stuck out was a 3-2 win at Burnley just before Christmas.

That game had a bit of everything and I thought I played really well that day.

I think Preston tried to sign me that January but then Stoke came in and took me on loan there.

They were top of the league and I had been there a couple of seasons before on loan and done well.

That was when Johan Boskamp was their manager and I enjoyed it. When I went on loan for that second time, Tony Pulis was in charge and things were a lot different.

It was a long six months for me but Stoke went on to get promoted.

I always felt I did well for Stoke in those loan spells so it was a bit surprising when I got booed there last week.

Mind you, I think that was down to me having got a ban earlier in the season for that tangle with Joe Allen!

Just looking back on last week’s 2-0 win at Stoke, what a result that was.

It was a second away win on the spin and one which was very much deserved.

After winning there and at Queens Park Rangers, the focus is on playing Derby County at Deepdale on Friday night.

Hopefully we can build on two strong away displays and do similar at home.

When my new contract was announced last week, I was touched to get so many messages.

They meant so much to me and I’m determined to go on and continue producing my best form.

A big thing about Preston is how well they looked after my family.

It’s nice that when they come to watch the games, the staff look after them and treat them so well.

That is important to me, as family are everything.