Gally back as PNE engine room trio make push for play-offs
Preston's victory over Bolton Wanderers on Gentry Day saw a reunion of their '˜fab three midfield'.
Ben Pearson, Alan Browne and Paul Gallagher were back together in the PNE engine room for the first time in a month.
Suspension for Pearson and a hamstring injury for Gallagher had kept them out for various games last month.
The last time all three had started prior to the 3-1 win at the Macron Stadium was the 2-1 victory over Hull City on February 3.
Gallagher suffered a tight hamstring in the 1-1 draw at Brentford, subsequently missing the games against Wolves and Aston Villa.
He was back on the bench for the 1-0 defeat to Ipswich but with limited fitness work under his belt, stayed sat in the dugout.
Alex Neil chose to start the 33-year-old at Bolton, his calm midfield play helping North End to a welcome three points in front of close on 4,000 travelling fans.
“It was good to be back and the game was a great one to play in,” said Gallagher.
“I got back a bit earlier than I thought for the game against Ipswich but I’d only had one day’s training.
“So I wasn’t risked that day but at Bolton I was raring to go.
“I got through to the last few minutes and just gave the manager the signal that I better not push it any further.
“He and myself have a good relationship, he trusts me to tell him if I’ve run my race and at 2-1 on Saturday I felt that was the case.
“We ended up scoring a third goal after I’d come off to make it safe.
“In midfield we seem to have a good balance with Ben Pearson, Alan Browne and myself.
“Ben is more a defensive midfielder who is very good at stopping the opposition’s No.10 playing.
“He can play as well, he’s comfortable on the ball and not just a stopper.
“I’m more in between, I play further back but like to get the team pushing forward.
“Ahead of us we have Browney who plays as a No.10 but gets back to help us out defensively when needed.
“He has got the legs and bags of energy, Browney has really pushed on this season.
“It is a good blend in there and hopefully we can keep producing the goods.”
After the away-day joy at Bolton, Gallagher and his team-mates head back to Deepdale for two big games in the context of North End’s play-off push.
They face Bristol City first, that an opportunity to pull level on points with the Robins.
On Saturday, Fulham make the trip to Lancashire, the London club having stormed up the division into the top four of late.
Such is the momentum the Cottagers have built up, few would bet against them challenging for second spot behind Wolves.
It was against Bristol City in November that Gallagher scored his only goal of the season to date.
His fine finish at the end of the first half at Ashton Gate set PNE on their way to a 2-1 win, one which was much needed at the time.
“While I’ve been talking about being in the centre of midfield, I actually played on the right wing in the game at their place,” said Gallagher.
“I scored that night and it is my only goal of the season so far – I’m due a few more.
“One of the reasons for playing on the right was to stop their left-back Joe Bryan pushing forward.
“I didn’t play as an out-and-out winger, sometimes tucking inside, and Bryan found it hard to mark me.
“It was a good win down there, we’d been struggling a bit and that result really got us going.
“Bristol City are up there and had a great 4-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend.”
Gallagher says PNE will be able to take plenty of heart from the Bolton win as they head into the Bristol City-Fulham home double header.
Reflecting on the 3-1 win, Gallagher said: “Personally I have a good record here in derby games.
“Even at 1-0 down I was confident we would come back to win because we were playing so well.
“After half-an-hour I could see that Bolton were struggling and it was just a case of us sticking with the game-plan which the manager had come up with.
“It was good that we scored early in the second half, that settled us down and Bolton were looking flat.
“It was a great goal from Tom Barkhuizen and Callum Robinson did so well for him.
“People say Callum is not your normal No.9 but for the equaliser he held the ball up well and played a superb pass for Tom who hardly had to break stride.
“Then we got Sean Maguire on and he showed what a natural finisher he is with the two goals.
“He knew where to go for Callum’s cross to make it 2-1 and then was very calm for the third goal. It’s great to have him back.”