IN-DEPTH: Paul Huntington in mood for final push in season of progress for PNE
Paul Huntington is determined that Preston's progress this season will be reflected in their final league position.
The Lilywhites’ play-off push stuttered over Easter weekend with back-to-back defeats, 4-1 at Sheffield Wednesday and 1-0 at home to Derby on Monday.
Alex Neil’s side however saw other teams slip up as well, meaning ahead of this weekend’s trip south to Berkshire to face Reading, PNE are just three points shy of the play-off places in 10th.
They have amassed 60 points from their first 40 games, having finished 11th with 62 in each of the last two campaigns on their return to the second tier.
“I think we’ve improved a hell of a lot,” said Huntington.
“I know we’re only on a similar points tally to what we finished with last season but we’ve got six games to go.
“That was part of the disappointment of the last couple of games, we haven’t picked up points to take us ahead of where we were at.
“It might not show in the league table just yet but as a group we’ve transformed the way we play with a different formation, different tactics, different gameplan.
“It’s the manager’s first season and he only came in once pre-season had started.
“We would have taken this position at the start of the season but now it’s about concentrating on the remaining games and not reflecting on what’s happened in the past because we can’t affect that.
“We’ve got to finish as strongly as we can.”
North End know they now need a good run to gatecrash the top six and extend their season beyond May 6.
Huntington says he and his team mates don’t want to look back on what has been a largely impressive campaign thinking ‘what if?’.
“We’re still in with a shout,” said the towering central defender.
“It seems that teams around us are not firing as much or playing as well as they have been.
“We’ve got to try and take advantage of that.
“But while we can look at other results we have to concentrate on ourselves and getting back to what we were doing previously.
“We are still in it and we’ve got to make sure we’re fighting and giving it everything.
“We’ve spoken about leaving it all out on the pitch and having no regrets.
“We’ll approach each challenge full on and try and finish as strongly as we can.
“If that takes us where we want to get to then that would be great.”
A disappointing weekend, first at Hillsborough and then at Deepdale, left plenty of heads being scratched with PNE on top for periods in both games only to come away with no points from a possible six in what was viewed as a crunch weekend in the race for the top six.
“It was a frustrating couple of games over Easter,” Huntington said.
“It didn’t go the way we wanted. The main difference was that we created the chances, we just didn’t take them which we have in previous games.
“We were then punished – it was Derby’s only shot on target on Monday.
“It was disappointing. We didn’t feel the performance was one that deserved to lose the game, we thought the least we deserved was a draw.
“A lot of the time though, especially the more experienced lads, we don’t need telling when we haven’t quite hit our usual standards. I don’t think it was a lack of effort. It’s never anything like that.
“It was just the quality in the final third. They sat very deep and tried to frustrate.
“The performances on the whole have been good we know we’ve got things to work on.
“There have just been key moments in games. You go through these sorts of spells in a season though.
“It’s how we react now. Football is all about highs and lows. The tests come when you’re not picking up results.”
The end of the campaign will come in a flash, with Leeds at Deepdale on Tuesday quickly following the trip to Reading.
“It’s another important week,” Huntington said.
“We’re looking forward to bouncing back.
“Three games in a week is a great opportunity to try and get those points that we’re looking for.
“We know no game in the Championship is easy, we’re not taking anything for granted and we know that the opposition we’re coming up against are fighting for points as much as we are.
“We’ll be well prepared, will give it everything and hopefully we can get some luck along the way.
“We’re looking up the table, trying get some points to try and propel us up the league where we were.”
Reading only missed out on the Premier League last season after a penalty shootout defeat to Huddersfield at Wembley.
Things have not gone to plan this time around though, Paul Clement has taken over from Jaap Stam at the Madejski Stadium with the Royals currently 19th in the table.
“We expect a tough game,” said Huntington.
“They are down towards the bottom third of the league, fighting for points.
“They’re the home side so I’m sure they’ll be trying to take the game to us.
“They had a man sent off in the last couple of games so the results may have been affected by that, I’m not sure.
“The new manager coming in will have given them a lift because they’ve had a disappointing season by their standards.
“They got to play-off final last season and haven’t quite hit the heights they did last year but that’s the league we’re in.
“They’ve got some talented players, as every team in our league has.
“We know we’ve got a talented group too and we’ll be focused on implementing our style and gameplan on them.
“It’s very much who’s up for it on the day and who is on their game.
“We need to make sure that we’re on our mettle.”