Right-back to the future for Paul

Shuffling the pack: Graham Westley has been left short at right-back
Shuffling the pack: Graham Westley has been left short at right-back
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Graham Westley is juggling several problems at the moment but has hopefully solved one of them with the signing of Paul Connolly.

The 29-year-old arrived on loan from Leeds United this week and will make his Preston debut in tomorrow’s visit to Yeovil Town.

He will fill the right-back role which has been something of a problem area for North End in recent weeks.

Keith Keane’s torn knee cartilage created a bigger hole than perhaps was anticipated when he limped off during November’s bruising clash with Notts County.

Five players have filled in at right-back since – Bailey Wright, Todd Kane, Jack King, John Mousinho and John Welsh.

Wright is a far better centre-half and loanee Kane lacked experience and strength, although has since joined Blackburn in a higher division.

King, Mousinho and Welsh are all midfielders by trade, filling the gap with a variety of success or otherwise.

So Connolly stepping through the Deepdale entrance must be welcomed.

He has not had a look in at Leeds recently, his first-team action this season limited to a month’s loan at Portsmouth.

Securing his services for the remainder of the season therefore suits all parties.

Connolly gets the chance of regular football, North End get a natural right-back and Leeds get a player not in their plans out of the door.

The Liverpudlian is familiar with the journey down the M6 and M5 which he and his new PNE team-mates will be making to Yeovil tomorrow.

It was deeper into the South West at Plymouth where he kicked-off his professional career.

So how did a Scouser end up so far away from home?

Connolly told the Evening Post: “It’s a long story, probably too long to tell in one interview.

“But in a nutshell I started at Tranmere as a kid and had fallen by the wayside by the time I was 13 or 14.

“When I left school I was looking at the prospect of getting a normal job.

“I still believed in my own ability, though, as did a football scout who I knew.

“He told me I could definitely make it in the game and one way or another, got me in at Plymouth.

“I ended up staying there for nearly eight years and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity they gave me.

“From Plymouth I went to Derby County and had two years there.

“While at Derby I had a loan spell with Sheffield United, then went to Leeds in the summer of 2010.

“Coming to Preston is the first time in my career that I’ve been close to Liverpool.

“Hopefully my family can get to some of the games because I’ve been a long way from home previously.

“Funnily enough my debut will hopefully come in the South West at Yeovil – the journey down there is one I’ve done many times.”

This season has provided Connolly with his first taste of League One football for quite a while.

The month at Portsmouth in the early stages of the campaign gave him a brief look at life at this level.

Now he has got three-and-a-half months here for a longer look.

Said Connolly: “Before going to Portsmouth it was seven years since I’d played in this division for Plymouth.

“It’s a right old tough league in my experience. In the Championship you can often see the difference between top and bottom.

“There will be games where one team completely dominates and wins 4-0.

“But it seems a lot tighter in League One – there’s a lot less between the clubs.

“It’s competitive and all the squads seem of a very similar standard. What is important is getting a consistent run of form going.

“Preston should be higher up the table with the squad we’ve got here.

“Maybe there’s a bit of a shortage of confidence at the moment.

“Look at Walsall, who played here last Sunday.

“They’d been on a run of 16 games without a victory, but their win here was their fifth in the last six games, which has pushed them up the table.

“It’s that sort of run which we need to get ourselves on in the next few weeks.

“I don’t mind having dropped down a division by coming here.

“My aim is to play regular first-team football, which I hadn’t been getting at Leeds.

“When I’m not playing I’m pretty hard to live with, so I jumped at the chance.

“I regard this as a big club and people I’ve spoken to have nothing but good words to say.

“John Welsh, who I played alongside for Liverpool schoolboys all those years ago, had a chat with me.

“He’s enjoying himself here and says it’s just a matter of getting on a good run.

“I’ve always kept in touch with John, he’s a good lad.

“I also know Scott Laird from being at Plymouth, and Steve Simonsen from my loan at Sheffield United.”