IN-DEPTH: Declan Rudd on battle with Chris Maxwell and Preston's play-off hopes
Declan Rudd is taking things in his stride despite Alex Neil chopping and changing between the sticks in recent weeks.
Having returned to the club on a permanent deal last summer the former Norwich man, who worked with the Preston North End boss previously at Carrow Road, had to wait for his chance.
A thigh injury meant his latest stint at Deepdale made a stuttering start with Chris Maxwell the out-and-out No.1 until January.
After regaining full fitness Rudd was given his chance in the FA Cup first at Wycombe and then Sheffield United, keeping his place in the Championship after the latter and playing nine straight games.
The 27-year-old had to make way however for the win at Sunderland due to the birth of his son Luca.
He was back after the international break for the 4-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday on Good Friday, only for Maxwell, who had been in China with Wales, to get the nod for the Easter Monday reverse against Derby at Deepdale.
But Neil felt the Welshman should have done better with Tom Lawrence’s winner from range for the Rams, paving the way for Rudd to play first against Reading and then Leeds on Tuesday night.
“I think you’ve got to keep level-headed,” he said.
“If you get taken out of the team and let it affect you then how are you going to get back in?
“You need to turn it into a positive and go out there and prove that you deserve to be in the team.
“Then when you do get in the team you need to make sure you don’t get above yourself and forget the stuff that’s got you in the team.
“It’s important that you don’t get too emotionally up and down.” The Diss-born shot-stopper insists that mature mental approach comes from the fact he knows is simply doing his best day in, day out, whether it be on a matchday or during training at Springfields.
“It’s only a difficult situation if you let it be,” Rudd said.
“All I can do is deal with what’s thrown at me in the game and in training.
“I always give it everything and if it’s not enough to get me in the team for the weekend then I know I’ve done everything I can.
“I feel my form in the team has been relatively good when I’ve been in. That’s all I can do.
“It’s a good sign for the club that there are two goalkeepers battling but unfortunately someone has to be disappointed.
“We all know that. It’s not like elsewhere on the pitch, if you’re a goalkeeper only one of you is going to be playing.”
Rudd is now the man in possession and will be hoping to play a key part in the final four games of the season, which start at Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
Three straight defeats put a serious dent in PNE’s play-off ambitions but getting back to winning ways with a 3-1 victory over Leeds on Tuesday night has kept things alive.
Neil’s Lilywhites are five points shy of the top six in 11th ahead of the trip to Loftus Road.
“As long as it’s still alive we want to take it to the next game and if we can get it to the last game of the season against Burton then great,” Rudd said.
“We’ve got a big game on Saturday, it will be tough.
“They’ve scored four goals at home in the last couple of games.
“We’ve just got to take every game as it comes and treat them all as cup finals.
“If we don’t get the three points then it doesn’t matter if other teams slip up.
“I think we’ve got our slip-ups out of the way and other teams have let us off the hook and kept us in touching distance of that sixth position.”
It may be a case of taking care of the job in hand first and foremost but attentions post-match do quickly turn to events elsewhere.
This weekend’s fixtures see ninth-in-the-table Sheffield United host Millwall, who currently occupy the final play-off spot, while Middlesbrough, in seventh, host eighth-placed Bristol City
“After the gaffer’s had his say the TV is always on with the results,” Rudd said.
“We make sure that we get our stuff done and then we see what’s gone on elsewhere.
“It is big for us what goes on elsewhere because it’s not in our hands at the minute.
“After we’ve done what we need to do we look to see if someone else has given us a helping hand to get there.
“This weekend might be the biggest one of the season.
“If we can get the three points, some teams above us are guaranteed to drop points.
“We could possibly be within one game of being in sixth come the end of Saturday.
“We have to do our job though and continue what we did on Tuesday night.
“I think you could see the relief in everyone, especially when that third goal went in.
“It was needed. After all the hard work we’ve put in this season, a few bad results nearly stopped our main objective of getting in the play-offs.
“It shows the character in the squad that we didn’t give up and we knew we still had it in us to get the result.”
North End’s cause in the closing weeks of the season is being helped by the fact Neil has more players at his disposal than at any time over the course of the season.
Competition for places is fierce, as Rudd knows all too well.
“We did struggle after the first part of the season with a lot injuries,” he said.
“That didn’t help us and results did drop but we were playing with people out of position all over the pitch.
“We’ve got a full-strength squad now and everyone’s fit at an important stage.
“We need to make the most of it and the good thing is we’ve got players that can come in a do a job if players do get injured.
“Everyone’s got to be on their toes but to be fair since the beginning of the season not one person hasn’t given it everything in training.
“It’s one good thing about this group, there’s a great work ethic and a great mentality which there isn’t at a lot of clubs.
“This is an enjoyable place to be.”