Josh Harrop had mixed emotions in the wake of Preston North End’s home defeat against Reading.
The 2-0 reverse was not the note the Lilywhites envisaged ending 2019 on, their form at Deepdale having been strong this season.
From a personal point of view though, Harrop got his first start for three months which he welcomed.
His last start had been on October 1 against Middlesbrough – the side who PNE kick-off 2020 against at Deepdale.
That autumn clash at the Riverside Stadium saw Harrop score in a 1-1 draw.
He was on the bench for the next game against Barnsley, coming on to score in a 5-1 win.
But a hamstring niggle he had been carrying turned into more of an issue and he was sidelined for five weeks.
Harrop, who turned 24 before Christmas, had six run-outs from the bench before getting his start at the weekend.
Hand on heart, he did not make the most of the chance afforded him on what was a frustrating afternoon.
“It was one of those games where it didn’t really happen for us,” Harrop told the Lancashire Post.
“I thought we dominated the ball in terms of possession but Reading sat back and then countered us when we made a couple of mistakes.
“It is the way football is sometimes, you can have plenty of the ball but we get punished. It was hard going at times, Reading dropped into two banks of four and couldn’t find the space to get past them.
“The positive for me was that it was my first start for quite a while.
“I was out for five weeks with an injury and then I’ve been coming off the bench.”
The hamstring injury came at just the wrong time for Harrop as he found his form and sharpness after missing much of last season with a damaged cruciate ligament.
He had forced his way into Alex Neil’s plans, scoring five goals in league and cup.
Harrop said: “Before I got the injury I had been in some good form.
“I’d scored a few goals and felt I was playing well. Then I got a niggle which set me back a bit.
“I had to build myself back to fitness and get to a point where I was ready to start.”
Harrop almost claimed himself an assist in the early stages of Sunday’s game.
At 0-0, he played in Brad Potts who saw a low shot saved well by the Reading goalkeeper.
Had that one hit the back of the net rather than the keeper’s legs, it could well have been different story.
Said Harrop: “Pottsy hit the shot low and hard, it half went under the goalkeeper and was bobbling around.
“I don’t really think the keeper knew properly where the ball was.
“Had that one gone in I think it would have been a different game.
“Unfortunately it didn’t and here we are having to talk about a defeat.
“Scoring first in a game is very important and we tend to get a good result if we do.
“We are a dominant type of side in general and if we get in front it suits us.
“From there we can press hard and try and get another goal doing that.
“We’ve got to focus on playing Middlesbrough now, that is the next challenge.
“Every game in this division is different, you come across different styles and formations.
“However you do in a game – win, lose or draw – you’ve got to quickly move on to the next one.
“Now we have moved into the second half of the season, we have got to start putting a run of results together.
“No one has really done that yet, teams are winning a couple of games and will then get beaten.
“Whoever can put a good unbeaten run together over the next few weeks can put themselves in a strong position.”
In a effort to help the North End players recover well between matches, the club have hired a cryotherapy chamber for the Springfields training ground.
The players spend a few minutes in freezing temperatures which helps muscle recovery, blood flow and improves sleep quality.
Harrop said: “You only spend three minutes or so in there – it’s a good job because it is so cold. When you come out your hair is white and your legs are frozen!
“You wear gloves and a head band and just stand there for a few minutes, you go in two at a time.
“I don’t know exactly how it works in terms of helping your body but they are used quite a lot in sport.
“It becomes part of the routine between games and anything that can help you recover that bit better and quicker, is worth trying out.
“We’ve used it a few times now, with only a short space of time between games it is useful.”