Preston North End defender pinpoints the importance of Derby and Blackpool games

Derby County and then ‘the’ derby against Blackpool – it is a big few days for Preston North End.

By Dave Seddon
Thursday, 31st March 2022, 1:25 pm

The importance of these next two games isn’t lost on PNE defender Andrew Hughes as the boots go back on after the extended international break.

Saturday’s visit to Pride Park to take on Derby is the next one, a chance to slip back into a more positive mind set following the 4-0 defeat at Luton Town the last time out.

The mentality in football is always to focus on the immediate challenge and it’s important for North End to do that at Derby after having more than a fortnight to stew over what went wrong at Luton.

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But human nature being what it is surely allows a sneaky look forward to Tuesday night and the visit to Blackpool to Deepdale.

The next two could really go hand-in-hand, what PNE wouldn’t give to get a positive result at Derby to take into the clash with those from down the M55.

Hughes said: “Blackpool was the first fixture we looked for when the games were released, we know what we have to do.

"We know what the game means, it’s not a secret. After what happened in the game at their place, we know we have to put things right.

Preston North End defender Andrew Hughes gets the better of Coventry City striker Martyn Waghorn

"That defeat is finished and gone but the fact we lost a derby still hurts. Hopefully that gives is that extra few percent to get across the line this time.

"It’s Derby first, we have to focus on that and look to get the business done there. Then we will look at Blackpool.”

The rescheduling of the Blackpool game meant a slightly longer international break for North End, one Ryan Lowe tried to strike the right balance with in terms of rest and training.

The squad got a a few days off after Luton, returning to training at the back end of last week.

Preston North End defender Andrew Hughes competes with Luton Town's Danny Hylton

This week has been the usual schedule as PNE fine tune ready to take on Derby.

Hughes said: “The break has felt like a long one, it seems quite a while since we played Luton. That game was a bad night at the office, it really was.

"Sometimes you want a game straight away to try and put things right but maybe it was good to get the break when we did.

"We’ve been back training for a while and ahead of us is a good stretch of games. We are all feeling refreshed and now everyone is raring to go for this last group of matches.”

Preston North End's Andrew Hughes

Hughes has been one of the most consistent performers in the Lilywhites side this campaign, his switch to the left side of a back three in the second-half of last season being of great benefit to him.

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Preston North End boss leads the tributes to keeper Declan Rudd who has been for...

It was a role he had played before at other clubs and the 29-year-old says he favours playing in that more central role than wider on the pitch at left-back or wing-back.

The level of his performances has put him in the running to be North End’s player of the year.

"I think I’ve adjusted well to playing there but if ever the manager needs me to go to play at left-back, that is fine my me,” said Hughes.

"Being in the middle suits me and I think I could play as a centre-half in a back four too.

"When I first went into a back three it was a case of finding my feet again. I have found my feet there and it just seems very natural to play there.

"You see the game slightly differently there, it just takes a few tweaks to what you do.

"I have still get some of my left-back traits when I go forward, I look to join in attacks when the time is right.

"The manager wants the outside centre-backs to bomb up the pitch and that suits me.

"Obviously that leaves the other defenders with more covering to do but it’s part of how we want to play.”

Hughes spoke on behalf of the PNE dressing room when paying tribute to team-mate Declan Rudd whose retirement from football was announced on Thursday morning.

Goalkeeper Rudd was forced to call it quits after three operations failed to cure a knee injury which he suffered back in January 2021.

Hughes has been a colleague of Rudd for nearly four years and spoke highly of him.

The Welsh defender said: “It is obviously very bad news. His team-mates have know for a while what the outcome was but it was a case of keeping it quiet until Dec and the club felt it was the right time to release the news.

"Injuries happen in football and unfortunately Dec has had this bad one.

"As a Preston player he has done very well and served this club proud.

"It has probably taken him a bit of time to get over and it will take more time. He’s got his family and friends around him so is in good hands.

"Dec will be in contact with some of the boys here and that will give him more support. Getting used to this won’t be an overnight thing but I’m sure whatever he does next, he will do very well.

"As a footballer, you never know what is just around the corner and a situation like this with Dec brings that home.”