Exclusive Paul Gallagher PNE column
Christmas might be just around the corner but this feels like the first few weeks of the season to me.
I have started the last five games after putting behind me the problems I had at the beginning of the campaign.
There was the hamstring injury in pre-season, getting knocked out at Derby and then I caught shingles.
So those first couple of months were something of a false start, hence the last few weeks being so enjoyable.
As a team, we are on a nice little run and it has been good to get off that sticky patch we were on.
A big thing for me is that I have completed the full 90 minutes in the last two games against Queens Park Rangers and Burton.
In my first three starts, I got to the 60 or 70-minute mark and that was me done – it was about the gaffer and myself having a conversation to see when my race was run.
The more games you play, the better your sharpness is.
I’ve always been a fit lad but game-time is vital. Ask anyone in football, they will tell you that you can train as much as you want but it is the matches which make the big difference.
The Burton game last week was one to really test your fitness.
It was tough, freezing cold and we were up against a team who are fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table.
They were hitting long balls forward to make sure the ball wasn’t anywhere near their box.
In the first 20 minutes, we knew that when we got the ball it was important to get it forward and get them turned to face their own goal.
As the game went on, we got stronger and in the latter stages we were very strong and could have scored four or five goals.
I hit the post with a shot, so did Callum Robinson and Daryl Horgan had a one-on-one chance.
So in that respect, it was disappointing we didn’t take more of our chances and that Burton managed to score a late consolation.
With my shot which hit the post, it was probably one of those occasions when I had too much time.
You saw with Daryl’s goal how the ball came to him and he hit it without breaking his stride.
Just before that the ball had fallen to me outside the box and I had a touch.
When I looked up ready to shoot there were four of their players in my line.
So I had another touch, decided to reverse the shot but overcooked it, the result being that it hit the outside of the post.
Fortunately, Daryl scored soon after that.
Daryl and Josh Harrop both made big impacts from the bench at Burton and it is important we have players to do that when a game needs turning in our favour.
When we went 2-0 up, the plan was to let Daryl, Josh, Callum and Tom Barkhuizen do the attacking, while myself and Ben Pearson sat deeper to dictate the play.
But at times, we got eager and were joining in with the attacking play.
Game management is an important part of it when you are looking to see out a result.
The younger lads in the squad are starting to learn that side of the game rather than trying to bomb on.
We are back in action on Saturday when Sheffield United come to Deepdale.
I had a month on loan with the Blades in 2012 when I was at Leicester.
At the time I was coming back from an injury and it was a good opportunity to get some football under my belt.
Danny Wilson was the United manager at the time and he was good friends with Nigel Pearson at Leicester.
In League One, there was loads of pressure on them to do well and you really felt that at Bramall Lane.
The six games I played for Sheffield United, we won three away and drew the three at home – maybe that emphasised the pressure which the players felt under. The last two games which Preston played against the Blades were in the FA Cup three seasons ago.
We drew 1-1 at Deepdale, I scored from a free-kick.
In the replay at their place, we started really well but then went 1-0 behind against the run of play.
However, we hit back in the second half to win 3-1.
I equalised with a free-kick, one I had to stop Josh Brownhill taking – he had scored against them in the league a few weeks before and wanted to take it.
Paul Huntington then gave us the lead and I scored the third with a penalty.
That result kicked us on after a patch of poor form.
It landed us a home tie with Manchester United in which we gave a really good account of ourselves, while our league form was strong from then on.