'I just wish' - Dai Cornell on Leeds United agony as Preston North End role hailed by Ryan Lowe

Preston North End's Dai Cornell applauds the fansPreston North End's Dai Cornell applauds the fans
Preston North End's Dai Cornell applauds the fans | CameraSport - Alex Dodd
The Preston North End goalkeeper started at Leeds United on Sunday

It's an under-the-radar role which Preston North End found themselves on the lookout for again in the summer of 2022: a back-up goalkeeper. That led manager Ryan Lowe to Dai Cornell, who had just left Peterborough United and wasted no time in penning a two-year deal at Deepdale.

The former Ipswich and Northampton man made one appearance in his first season as a Preston player, with No.1 Freddie Woodman playing every Championship match. Cornell saved a penalty in the Carabao Cup defeat at Wolves and that was his lot for competitive minutes.

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This season has offered a couple more opportunities, with the Welshman playing in the first round of the cup again - before making his full league debut at Swansea City, just before Christmas and starting away to Leeds United last weekend. With Woodman absent due to illness, Cornell was brought back into the fold and embraced the chance - even if he was disappointed with aspects of his performance.

"I struggled with my distribution, personally," said the shot-stopper. "It was windy out there and difficult; swirling wind. My hips stiffened up after the first kick and it was difficult, but I didn't feel like I had much to do really - a couple of crosses I had to get rid of, but apart from that it wasn't really a busy day. I don't think I had to make a save."

And on the Leeds fans behind him at Elland Road, he said: "My partner is actually from Leeds and all of her family are Leeds fans, so I think it was half of them to be honest! But no, I don't mind it; I quite enjoy it. It is not something that affects me. I will turn around and smile at them, which seemed to get a funny reaction. I just wish we could've held on for a point. I would've given it a bit more, I think."

Cornell is stood in a rather busy mixed zone at Leeds, chatting to the local press for the first time since his move to North End. Darts World Champion, Luke Humphries is around the corner but it's North End's number 21 in the media spotlight. The defeat is still raw and absolutely gutting, but Cornell is a positive individual and he makes sure he brings that energy into Euxton every day.

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"Yeah, day in, day out," said Cornell. "Whether that is being in early after a good performance and having the music on for the boys when they get in, or trying to influence and drive training. And then days like today, trying to keep the ball out of the net for the boys. I just try and do as much as I can for this football club. It has been great. It is a fantastic club and I think, if we carry on building on what we've got, who knows what can happen?"

A starting spot for Cornell came just a few days after he signed a new, two-year contract with Preston. That was a decision driven by Lowe's valuation of Cornell as both a person and professional. His deal ties him down until the summer of 2026 and there is nobody Lowe would rather have filling the role.

"I value him massively, because of what he does for the group and the type of character he is, it just epitomises everything I want in a player," said Lowe. "His attitude, his application and even when I played him against Swansea he didn't do anything wrong. But, I was always going to change; I wanted Fred to have a reboot and go again. His attitude after that was phenomenal; when a 'keeper goes in, they always think they are going to get a couple of games. He is different class and when I met Dai, before we signed him and he knew his role and responsibility, he was that and that's why we signed him.

"Me and Peter (Ridsdale) spoke about extending the contract for him, because we would only be in the same boat next year or whenever it was, to get another 'keeper like him. And when you have got someone of his ilk, calibre and attitude - which people thrive off, Fred and young James included - it's a breath of fresh air. If you asked Mike Pollitt, he is probably one of the best, hard working goalkeepers - along with Fred - he has come across. So, it was well earned, well warranted and I am really pleased to have him."

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Recognition for Cornell is there from his team mates too, with Andrew Hughes saying: "I cannot speak highly enough of Dai. You have only got to watch him in training, to see what he is about. He never sulks and is always in high spirits, cheering on the lads. People like that, with good experience are great to have around the building. I am really pleased for Dai."

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