Speedster Tom is flying at PNE

Tom Barkhuizen in action at Fulham
Tom Barkhuizen in action at Fulham

If anyone has grasped an opportunity which has come their way this year, it is Tom Barkhuizen.

The speedy front-man’s step up from League Two to top-half Championship football has been seamless – for the last eight months he has been a vital cog in Preston’s works.

After a few tasters from the bench, Barkhuizen made his first start in the North End team at Fulham in March.

He has started every league game since, a run of 25 matches.

Start No.26 is set to come when PNE play host to Brentford on Saturday afternoon (3pm).

It was about this time last year when a proposed move to Deepdale started bubbling under.

Morecambe had hit big financial difficulties and needed cash to keep afloat.

Barkhuizen’s final match in a Shrimps shirt came on November 6, and he signed for North End later that month.

He became eligible to play for his new club in the New Year and has not looked back since.

“It has been a pretty good year from a personal point of view,” Barkhuizen said.

“I got in the team at the back end of last season and have kept my place since.

“Since Fulham I have started every single game .

“That is nice but at the end of the day, I’m a big team player and I want the team to do well.

“It is not about my stats or anything like that, it is us trying to get into the top six and seeing what we can do.”

The statistics which Barkhuizen mentions are actually very impressive.

His eight goals and the same number of assists mean the 24-year-old has been involved in more PNE goals than anyone else in 2017.

Said Barkhuizen: “It is nice to score and set goals up but at the end of the day that is my job.

“Whether it is me or anyone else scoring, the main thing is that it puts points on the board.

“There was the one at Fulham the other week when my shot hit Sean Maguire on the shinpad and went in.

“We had a laugh and a joke about it afterwards in the dressing room but it really didn’t matter who got the credit.

“I feel I’m doing all right at the moment – in the last eight or nine games I have pushed on.

“My main job is to do my stuff at the top end of the pitch, so far I have got a few assists this season and a couple of goals to my name.

“Hopefully I can keep that going and we can push on as a team.

“The gaffer seems to have confidence in me by playing me every game so far, I want to repay him and help the other lads.”

Barkhuizen has fitted well into the style of play and approach favoured by PNE boss Alex Neil.

His pace down the right-hand side of the pitch is a big part of the intensive high press which PNE put on opponents.

“It is a tough intensity we play at but the gaffer looks after us well on the recovery days and with the days off,” said Barkuizen.

“We are really enjoying how we have changed our style of play, it seems to be working well.

“We train how we play, the gaffer doesn’t want us downing tools in training .

“Everyone gives 100%, tackles are flying in when we train.

“We are working very hard on our pressing game because a lot of teams don’t like it.”

Barkhuizen’s lengthy tenure in the North End team means others are having to make do with a seat on the bench.

The attacking line of three behind Jordan Hugill is one of the most competitive areas in the Preston squad.

“There are five, maybe six lads playing for the two wide positions,” he said.

“Sean Maguire has had a great start and so Daryl Horgan, Callum Robinson and Stephy Mavididi have been on the bench.

“They are training very well and I’m sure the gaffer will turn to them.

“It is a long season and everyone will be needed.

“We have got a great squad, it is not a case of people saying, ‘He’s playing and I’m not’.

“The game when that really showed was Hull when Daryl and Callum combined to score the late winner.

“It is only natural that everyone wants to play and that keeps the whole squad on its toes.”

Brentford’s visit to Deepdale is the first of a trio of matches running up to the international break.

Aston Villa come to town on Wednesday night, then North End head to Suffolk to take on Ipswich next weekend.

After a few weeks of a Saturday-to-Saturday schedule, it is back to the test of having a midweek game thrown into the mix.

Barkhuizen said: “To be honest there have been a lot of midweek games this season so we are used to what is coming up.

“We want to be playing as much as possible, training every day is good but it is the matches that you look forward to.

“The lads would rather be playing than training, especially now that winter is coming.

“A few of the boys are scared of the cold!

“Being back at home is something we are looking forward to as it’s been a while since we were here.

“We’ve got Brentford, then it’s Aston Villa on Sky TV, before the trip to Ipswich, which is always a tough away game.

“Confidence is as high as it has been all season, apart from at Derby we haven’t dipped that much.

“A couple of the home games against Barnsley and Millwall were a little bit disappointing but as a whole, we have had a solid start.

“Brentford will be a big test, probably similar to Fulham and maybe Wolves to an extent.

“They want to get the ball on the deck and pass it around.

“If anything, that might play into hands with how we are pressing teams.

“They have their way of playing and we have ours.

“At Fulham a couple of weeks ago, when they were playing out from the back and taking a few risks, we were there to combat that.

“We did that really well, it was just a shame that we ran out of steam a bit in the second half and Fulham managed to nick a late goal.

“At Wolves last week we didn’t get what we quite deserved, so we need to get back to winning ways in this next run of games and get some points.”