Paul Huntington knows Preston have to stay in the mix as season enters sharp end

Preston will look to continue their front-foot approach at Brentford on Saturday.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 8th February 2018, 6:30 pm

The change in mind-set has been one of the most noticeable things about the transition from Simon Grayson to Alex Neil last summer.

The Scot talks often of risking one nailed-on 
point when three are possible and has backed his players to mix it at the sharp end of the Championship come the end of the season.

Paul Huntington is a man who has been key in both regimes, the fans’ favourite being a real leader at times for Neil this season, especially when his defence was at its most threadbare earlier in the season.

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Paul Huntington has become a firm fan favourite.

After back-to-back wins however the Lilywhites head to Griffin Park on the fringes of the play-off places in seventh.

“It’s very different,” said Huntington, dubbed the Cumbrian Cannavaro by North End supporters.

“The way in which we approach each game is, I wouldn’t say more attacking, we’re just looking to win more rather than take draws or keep it tight.

“We’re more often than not a team that’s looking to go and get that first goal and in our league it’s important because it can give you a platform to go and try and win games.

Huntington, dubbed the Cumbrian Cannavaro by North End fans, celebrates the victory over Hull

“Brentford adopt a style that probably only a few teams in this league play. They’re a good side, they had been on a good run but have lost the last couple.

“We know it’s going to be a tough game but it’s one we’re prepared for. We’re looking to keep our run going.”

Some at Deepdale would be forgiven for having reservations about a trip to Brentford, North End’s poor record against the Bees hitting a new low with the 5-1 defeat last season. It turned out to a watershed moment in more ways than one with Huntington and Ben Pearson amongst the players not involved that day.

“Me and Ben Pearson were in with the Preston fans,” said Huntington.

Huntington battles for the ball against Wolves.

“It wasn’t a great afternoon – it was a long afternoon, I’ll tell you that.

“It was a long trip home, especially at that time for me and Ben.

“The next game was the Bournemouth one in the cup and we made quite a lot of changes in that game and quite a few of the lads got chances off the back of winning that game.

“I think we went on to beat Wigan on the TV the following Friday night which wasn’t a great spectacle but we got the job done. A lot of players have left and it’s a different team this time around.

The Cumbrian Cannavaro competes with Joe Garner during PNE's defeat at Ipswich, one of four in a row earlier in the season.

“Obviously there’s a new manager and a different style of play, tactics and game-plan.

“A lot of things have changed and there’s a lot more room to improve but we go there with confidence.”

North End head to the capital on the back of victories at Nottingham Forest, 3-0, and at home to Hull, 2-1, albeit coming thanks to contrasting 

“At Forest the performance was good, Saturday less so but we got the job done, which is the most important thing,” Huntington said.

“We spoke before the game about the points being the most important thing.

“We know that no game in this league is easy and Hull are fighting for their lives down the bottom and adapted a direct attacking approach with two strikers.

Huntington has been a key figure under Alex Neil.

“We showed good character though. We don’t come from behind a lot in general so it was really pleasing.

“We battled through it and had the better chances in the second half.

“It was a tough game now we’re looking to build on it going forwards.”

The results leave PNE three points shy of the top six, their opponents on Saturday five further back in 11th.

“It was good to follow-up what we did at Forest up on Saturday, at least result-wise,” Huntington said.

“We’ve been in that position before and not managed to bridge the gap.

“We keep giving ourselves opportunities, it’s up to us to keep trying to grab them and close the gap.

“We were disappointed with the point against Birmingham and with the way we played it felt like a defeat.

“But we battled, scrapped and didn’t play well but that point becomes an important point if you look at the last couple of results.

“We’re not looking any further than Brentford and when you look at it there are not many games to come – they’re coming thick and fast.

“If we can carry on the form we’ve been in and give ourselves a chance at the end of the season, that would be great.

“You’ve just got to give yourselves an opportunity going into the last batch of games and we’ll be looking to do that.”

It is no coincidence that results have improved as players have returned from injury.

With two back fours out at one point, PNE lost four on the bounce back in October and November, but numbers have been replenished to such an extent that players have been allowed to leave on loan to get some much-needed game-time.

Despite the increased competition for places in the last couple of months Huntington knows the squad can get even stronger in the coming weeks.

“It was mad earlier in the season having nine or 10 defenders out,” he said.

“It was a real struggle at the time. Having two back fours out or more, I think would affect a lot of the teams in our division.

“We came thought that and the more options we can have available for different games and different opposition the better. We change personnel depending on the game-plan.

“Sean Maguire hopefully coming back in the next couple of weeks will be key.

“He’s a big player for us and Ben Davies is coming back too.

“Ben Pearson’s out at the moment so the more we can get back the better.

“It’s seemed this season when we’ve had one or two coming back, we seem to have lost two or three, we’ve never had the full squad available.

“That’s how it goes sometimes but when we’ve got everyone available we’ve got a strong squad.”

Paul Huntington has become a firm fan favourite.
Huntington, dubbed the Cumbrian Cannavaro by North End fans, celebrates the victory over Hull
Huntington battles for the ball against Wolves.
The Cumbrian Cannavaro competes with Joe Garner during PNE's defeat at Ipswich, one of four in a row earlier in the season.
Huntington has been a key figure under Alex Neil.