Preston keeper Declan Rudd ready to challenge for No.1 spot after toughest spell of career
Whether a familiar face or not, it was the worst possible start for any player after moving to a new club.
Having previously starred on loan at Deepdale, Declan Rudd’s arrival as a permanent fixture in the summer saw Preston have two frontline goalkeepers in competition.
Chris Maxwell had impressed in his first season with North End but would now surely be kept firmly on his toes?
The sight of Rudd limping off with a thigh injury in the opening pre-season friendly at Bamber Bridge back in July put a halt to that however, with the 27-year-old then breaking down again in the Lancashire Senior Cup game against Burnley in early September.
Only now can the battle between the keepers really commence, with Rudd likely to be between the sticks for the FA Cup fourth-round tie at Sheffield United on Saturday after returning to first-team action in the last round at Wycombe.
“It’s been the toughest time of my career during my 10 years as a professional footballer,” he said.
“Not only to get injured once but then to come back in my first reserve game and do it straight away was even harder.
“It’s sort of made me hungrier to get back out there and gave me the hunger to play football again.
“Every day I’m out there training, I’m making the most of it because I know what it’s like to be stuck in that gym every day and it’s not enjoyable.
“It’s definitely given me the kick that I needed.
“When it gets taken away from you through injury it definitely gives you that motivation to make the most of every day. When you come into a new team on a permanent deal, to get injured in the first minute of the first game and it being the first time the gaffer was here and then to miss four or five months of the season isn’t good.
“I’ve had such an easy run in my first 10 years in football I was due a little bit of a bad luck.
“Hopefully it’s done now and I can kick on.”
It has been a particularly frustrating time out, given the false dawn back in September.
“It was a grade two tear and it’s the kicking muscle,” said Rudd.
“It’s quite common in a goalkeeper and that’s why the rehab was longer than an outfield player because of the force you use when you’re taking goalkicks.
“The first kick at Bamber Bridge it went, so I had to come off after five minutes which obviously wasn’t good.
“Originally it was going to be six to eight weeks so we gave it seven and then I played in the Lancashire Cup game against Burnley and in the 90th minute I took a goalkick and it went again.
“I thought I’d got through the game but felt it go right at the end.
“We then gave it nine weeks after that just to make sure everything was right.
“We looked into everything and changed a few things in the rehab and fingers crossed it is all sorted now.
“I’ve played a couple of games at the training ground and in the FA Cup so it looks like we’re hopefully through it now.
“I’m looking forward to getting back out there and hopefully we can go out there and get another clean sheet and a win.”
Deposing Maxwell to become PNE’s No.1 in the Championship will be easier said than done, boss Alex Neil admitting that it is not a position where he will make a change lightly.
Rudd’s return will certainly sharpen the minds however.
“We’re all here to play football and not be spectators,” the former England Under-21s international said.
“It’s part and parcel of football.
“Everybody in the squad is wanting to get in that XI on a Saturday or a Tuesday.
“Everyone plays better with competition and Maxi’s had a good first half of the season. He had a good stint in the team last year when he played as well.
“For me to give him competition and for him to give me competition is healthy and it’s no different to anywhere else on the pitch.
“You see the gaffer making changes every week because some players are training well throughout the week and they get their chance on a Saturday.
“That then gives the other player a kick up the backside to go out there and train hard the next week. It’s good all around the squad.”
Rudd is a goalkeeper Neil knows well from their time together at Norwich, the PNE boss giving the shot-stopper his chance in the Premier League.
Reunited at Deepdale after Simon Grayson’s departure, Rudd believes this is a club that suits the Scot better than the Canaries.
“He still has the same outlook on games and the way he wants his teams to work,” he said. “I think it works better here with the type of squad that we have.
“Everyone’s hungry and wants to work and wants to get better and I think that was the big thing with him coming in.
“He knew that this squad was his type of team and you can tell that with how the club has been doing.”
This season has also seen him work with a hat-trick of familiar goalkeeping coaches in Alan Kelly, in post at Preston during Rudd’s season-and-a-half on loan, Dean Kiely, who worked with Neil at the Canaries, and now Jack Cudworth, promoted from the academy until the end of the season.
“I’ve had so many goalie coaches in my time, they must get fed up of working with me,” Rudd said with a smile.
“It’s just something you’ve got to get on with.
“At the end of the day the ball’s round and you’ve got to stop it going in the back of the net.
“Whether you’ve got Dean Kiely or Jack Cudworth kicking the ball at you, it’s pretty much the same sort of thing.
“Working with Dean was really enjoyable. His time in the game and experience was really something I tried to learn from.
“Unfortunately for us as a club he left because he got a better offer which in life you can’t blame anyone for doing. Jack’s come in and carried on the work and things are good.”