Tom Barkhuizen glad to be back for Preston North End and aiming to help them regain that winning feeling
The role of spectator is clearly one which Preston North End winger Tom Barkhuizen hasn’t enjoyed these past few weeks.
Covid and a difficult recovery from the virus saw the 28-year-old sit out a dozen games between mid-August and the beginning of October.
For a player rarely injured in his five previous seasons with North End, it felt strange to be on the sidelines and under the care of the medical staff.
On media duty ahead of Wednesday night’s clash with Coventry City at Deepdale, that sense of frustration came across.
The run of draws – it’s six in seven games going into the visit of the Sky Blues – left Barkhuizen under whelmed.
He was back to feature in the latest of those, Saturday’s stalemate with Derby County.
Handed a starting role by Frankie McAvoy in attack, Barkhuizen played an hour before being subbed.
It was a hard game in which to return, North End chasing the ball for all the first half and into the second as the Rams bossed play.
For Barkhuizen, it was a big step in his return to good health, a first league outing since the opening day of the season back on August 7.
He’s now back in that squad of players who have to start digging out some wins, ideally against Coventry which is the forerunner to Saturday’s big one at Blackpool.
Reflecting on results in recent weeks, Barkhuizen said: “We don’t look like we are going to dominate games.
“I watched the home matches when I was off so they are the ones I can really comment on.
“The Swansea game when we won, they popped us off the park to start with but then Sepp van den Berg scored a minute after they had taken the lead and that took the wind out of their sails. I know we have only lost four league games this season but when you have drawn six and won two, it’s not been good enough.
“As a group of players we know that we have to pull our finger out. It is no point myself or Alan Browne who is on media duty a lot, saying it, we have to do it.
“We need to dominate games more, if we don’t we will be in big trouble.”
North End will face a Coventry side who have been the Championship’s surprise package this season.
After being involved in a relegation scrap before avoiding the drop with some comfort, Mark Robins’ men have kicked on impressively in the first dozen matches of the 2021/22 campaign.
Said Barkhuizen: “It is going to be similar to Derby in that Coventry move the ball well and are going to want a lot of possession.
“We beat them twice last season but how we won at home in December, I don’t know. We got absolutely popped for most of the night but scored from a corner and a shot from the edge of the box.
“Just at the moment the balance doesn’t seem to be right, the five at the back, then the three and two.
“I don’t think we’ve been pressing as a team, we’re not quite getting it right.
“It’s something Frankie is looking at and the players are talking about as we figure out how to get on a good run.”
Barkhuizen’s time at Deepdale has spanned the stewardships of Simon Grayson, Alex Neil and now head coach McAvoy.
He admits that towards the end of Neil’s reign, his relationship with the manager had become strained.
That, says Barkhuizen, was due to the struggles PNE were having rather than any personality clash.
McAvoy stepped in to fill the void left by Neil, with their management styles being quite different.
“Frankie is a really good team person, he is all about keeping the team together and keeping a good team spirit,” said Barkhuizen.
“It is not easy, I worked under Alex Neil for nearly four years and towards the end you could see there were fractures in the relationship with Alex had built with myself, Browney, DJ, people like that.
“There was a bit of bickering, none of us could accept that standards had dropped, that we weren’t quite doing as well as we should have been.
“That is where team spirit gets tested and it ended up costing him his job.
“As players, especially myself, you take quite a lot of responsibility for that.
“Frankie wants to keep the team together, wants to keep the team pulling the same way.
“The lads who aren’t playing, he tried to make feel a big part of it.
“We have to cut him some slack, this is his first job.
“He is learning on the job, he is trying his best and as a player all you want to see is your manager giving his all, which Frankie clearly does every day."
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