Preston North End's Tom Barkhuizen happy to be flexible in the Lilywhites forward line

Tom Barkhuizen is content not to have a specific job title, in terms of his role in the Preston North End squad.

Thursday, 30th January 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 30th January 2020, 5:10 pm
Tom Barkhuizen in action for Preston in their victory at Barnsley

The 26-year-old is the joint leading scorer at Deepdale, while he has also weighed in with a few assists.

He has been used in a variety of ways this season by PNE manager Alex Neil, operating on both wings, as a lone striker and as part of a front two.

Twinned as a striker with Scott Sinclair the last time out against Barnsley at Oakwell, Barkhuizen found the net twice.

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Preston duo Tom Barkhuizen and Josh Harrop celebrate after Barkhuizen scores against Barnsley

That pushed his tally for the campaign to nine goals, seven of those in the Championship.

It could be a different role for him in North End’s clash with Swansea City at Deepdale on Saturday.

Whatever that is, the former Morecambe man will feel comfortable playing there.

So where does he prefer to operate, on the wing or up front?

Preston's Tom Barkhuizen takes on a Leeds defender at Elland Road on Boxing Day

“I had this conversation with Ryan Ledson and Joe Rafferty,” said Barkhuizen in the press conference to preview Swansea’s visit.

“If I play up front I prefer to be part of a two because I like to drift about.

“Having played a lot as a winger, I will naturally drift to the side.

“But if I’m the only one up front, I have to stay more central and be the one running beyond the central defenders.

Tom Barkhuizen celebrates scoring the winner for Preston against Blackburn at Deepdale in October 2019

“My mentality is that I don’t mind where I play, that is why I feel comfortable either wide or up the middle. I don’t think, ‘I’m being played out of position’ because I never feel out of position on the pitch.

“I know the roles which the manager wants from his forward players.

“At Barnsley I was up front with Scott in a 4-4-2 and what made the system work was that we could both drift wide to give some width.

“It wasn’t as if we were playing 4-4-2 with David Nugent and Jayden Stockley up there who like to play down the middle.

“Not until this season under the gaffer did I start to play up front. The first time was against Stoke in August when we won 3-1.

“I came back into the team that night and did all right, so that gave the gaffer another option.

“When Simon Grayson was here he played 4-4-2 and I played up front.

“We had Jordan Hugill up there so that allowed me to drift off.

“I’m not a ‘pocket player’ like Callum Robinson was here – he would get the ball on the half turn and go from there.”

Although there was a sizeable gap between his two goals at Barnsley and him previously finding the net, Barkhuizen has been happy with his form.

He points to other ways in which he’s contributed to the team.

Said Barkhuizen: “It’s my best goals tally for a season here.

“I’ve beaten my league goals from last season and I got a couple in the cup.

“My assists this season are already better than last season because I wasn’t very good at them last year.

“I spoke to the gaffer a couple of weeks ago. He asked how I thought I was doing and I told him I was playing well.

“At the time I wasn’t scoring but I’m an age now where my game doesn’t revolve around the number of goals and assists I get.

“My all-round game is important, I’m taking the ball in better and looking after it better.

“Overall I have been more confident with my own game. The statistics say I went 13 or 14 games without a goal but I thought in quite a few of those games I was still playing well.”

Barkhuizen clearly has a good relationship with Neil, the lines of communication clear between them.

It is the PNE manager’s opinion which counts for Barkhuizen, rather than listening to comments which come his way on social media or from the stands.

Barkhuizen said: “If the manager wasn’t pleased with how I was doing, he would drop me. He’s done that before and might well do again.

“We have that relationship where we can discuss things. If I’m not happy with something I will raise it and likewise he will do so.

“He’s not afraid to tell me something because he knows my mentality.

“You do need a strong mentality with the way the game has gone with social media.

“Do I care that someone tweets me after a game to say I was rubbish? No I don’t, I shut it out.

“If the manager thinks I’m doing all right, he is the one who picks the team, is going to make my career better and is going to give me a new contract.

“Maybe it’s not nice to have the mentality where you are so focused that you put the opinion of others to one side. But you have got to do that.

“If you listened to people who tweet or message you on Instagram, mentally it would destroy you It’s not just football, it’s the same in cricket and golf.”