Preston North End’s rise up the Championship table has come as no surprise to Paul Gallagher.
Simon Grayson’s side lost five of their first six games in the league but an impressive upturn in form sees them sit 11th just three points off the play-offs ahead of returning to action after the international break against Wolves at Deepdale on Saturday.
With all his experience Gallagher knows fans’ hopes of a tilt at the top six will only rise if their good run of results continues.
“The expectation comes from last season,” said the 32-year-old midfielder.
“No-one expected us to finish in the top half of the table (11th) especially in our first season coming back.
“We always believe in ourselves and believe in the staff and everything we do here though.
“Everything we do here is for the best of the football club.
“At the beginning there was no need to panic, we were playing well and just not getting the results, it was going to turn and it has in the last month and a bit.
“We know where we’re trying to get to.
“It’s obviously difficult to get there with so many big clubs in the division with big budgets.
“We’re punching above our weight.
“It’s a tough division and our home form has got to be spot on which it has been in the last few games.
“If we can win our home games then I’ve said I always fancy us because our counter attacking and formations can baffle teams at times.”
There may be increasing excitement around Deepdale about the potential of the squad being assembled, former Morecambe winger Tom Barkhuizen being the latest addition, but Gallagher knows all too well looking too far ahead is a recipe for disaster.
“It’s the old cliché that we have to concentrate on each game and focus because if you take your eye off the ball you can lose a few games on the bounce and next minute you’re looking over your shoulder again,” he said.
“Last month we really worked hard and the games before that we played well and just didn’t get the results.
“We’ve managed to get those results and now we just want to keep pushing hard and see how far it can take us.
“These next few months are going to be tough but that’s what you do the hard work for and if we can come out of these two months in a good position we can give ourselves a good opportunity on the home straight.”
The next test for PNE is Wolves who although sitting 19th in the Championship will be under the stewardship of new boss Paul Lambert for the first time.
Gallagher knows full well what any incoming manager can bring to a struggling side, and is expecting a tough test on Saturday with Lambert having pulled off a 2-1 victory at Deepdale in his first game as Blackburn Rovers boss 12 months ago.
“It happened last season when he went to Blackburn,” he said.
“People said that at Rotherham with a newish manager (Kenny Jackett) but we went there and did a job on them.
“We need to concentrate on ourselves.
“We know Paul Lambert will probably go in there and change things.
“I’ve been in a team when a new manager has come in and you just get that extra five or 10 per cent.
“But we’ll just look after ourselves and will be confident after the month we’ve had.
“You give them the respect they deserve because they’re a big club with good players but they’re coming to our pitch and we’ll make it as difficult as we can do.”
It will be a welcome return to action, Gallagher admitting that most players simply wanted to crack on with the campaign rather than have the two-break enforced by internationals.
“I always just want to carry on playing but it gives people an opportunity to do a bit of work on the training ground and those recovering from injuries to get a bit fitter and try and get back for the next game,” he said.
“But if you ask any player they’ll tell you they want to be playing week in, week out.
“These come around for a purpose and we try and use it to our benefit.
“All the lads are itching to play again though.”
During the lay-off Gallagher picked up an award, his second in the 3-0 win at Charlton last season being named the goal of the season at the North West Football Awards as he beat off competition from the likes of Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and Manchester United’s Anthony Martial in a Twitter vote on the night.
“I’m delighted to win,” he said.
“I didn’t expect it, I was up against some tough opposition.
“I was disappointed I couldn’t make it but Snods (assistant manager Glynn Snodin) brought the award back.
“I’ve managed to take it home and my son’s got it in his bedroom and hopefully one day he’ll score on like that.
“I’m pleased to win an individual award but I’d swap that for us finishing in the top six no problem.”