John Welsh's exclusive PNE column

To start my first league game in midweek against Cardiff and to get through 90 minutes was a great feeling to say the least.

Thursday, 14th September 2017, 6:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th September 2017, 12:06 pm
Eyes on the ball

I was fortunate to get the chance because of injuries to a couple of the other lads but when the chance came, I was determined to take it.

It has been a long road back from the injury I got last October but I had got myself in a position where my body felt fit and ready to play in the Championship again.

I’ve been in the game long enough to know that if you’re in the squad, you are always in with a chance of playing.

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In my own mind I was ready to play, I felt fine and was keen to repay the faith the gaffer had put in me.

After a long-term injury, you have to be mentally right to play again.

If you have any doubts about your fitness in your mind, you aren’t going to play the way you want.

A few weeks ago, I played 45 minutes of a friendly game against Fleetwood and then I stepped that up by playing 70 minutes of the Lancashire Senior Cup win over Burnley last week.

Even though I came off in that one, I felt that I had more left in the tank.

I always felt confident that I could get through 90 minutes and that proved to be the case on Tuesday night.

Maybe in the last 20 or 25 minutes, I had to manage what I did a bit, but I felt fine at the end and there were a lot of good signs.

Yes, I could have done without the booking I got but making tackles are a big part of my game and tackling is what I enjoy doing.

If there is a tackle to be made, I’m first in the queue to make it.

I found out shortly before the game that I was going to be starting.

The manager pulled me in and told me I was playing, just explained what he was expecting from me.

He told me to give it as long as I could, if after 60 minutes that was me done, to let him know so that he could replace me from the bench.

I told him I would be fine and that proved to be the case.

On Wednesday when we came in for a warm-down, my body felt fine.

It was more the lack of sleep after a night game which is hard to cope with.

A lot of players struggle to sleep after a match, you find that you play the game over in your head while all the caffeine drinks you have tend to keep you awake.

The adrenaline is still pumping and sleep does not come easy.

Reflecting on the Cardiff game, it was one of the most complete performances we have had for a long time.

I got a similar feeling to the one I had when we played the play-off final in 2015.

It felt like everyone was on it and knew what to do, with the competitiveness and work-rate there.

Cardiff were top of the league before playing us but we put in a great display.

The front two were really good, the wingers were on fire, while our full-backs were excellent.

To a man, you could not have asked for much more.

When we click like that, we have the quality to really hurt teams.

It was something we had not quite been doing up until then, but I think we all knew a performance like that was coming.

The role I played against Cardiff was the one normally done by Ben Pearson.

Ben has been a big loss for us and his were big shoes for me to fill.

He’s been excellent for us, he gets about the pitch, makes tackles and always likes to get on the ball.

Ben can dictate the play and find the killer pass – he is the whole package.

I’m a different kind of midfielder than Ben but I was confident in my ability to replace him.

I’ll admit I’m probably not as good on the ball as Ben is but when I play in there, I’m street-wise and experienced in that position.

We now move on to play Birmingham and that will be a tough one at their place.

They’ve not been in great form lately but we have seen what this division is all about.

We will have to make sure we are right for the game and match the standards we set ourselves against Cardiff.

The work-rate has to be there again and the gaffer will pick a team to give us the best chance.

It is a squad game here, the gaffer has always been at pains to point that out.

Every time someone has come into the team, they have done well.

At Birmingham, Harry Redknapp was busy in the transfer market running up to the deadline, bringing in a number of players.

It can take time for a squad to gel and the team spirit to grow, so maybe we can capitalise on that.