North End’s current player of the year, Greg Cunningham, believes that the shadow he and his team-mates have been hiding behind for a year has been lifted.
This means that the management and the team have to raise their game even higher and the 25-year-old left back acknowledges that the period of going under the radar seems to have passed.
“Last season we were a bit of an unknown,” he told The One And Only at Springfields in the run up to this evening’s live TV derby clash with the team from the east of the county.
“We had just been promoted into the league and teams came to Deepdale looking to win the games.
“We have always known what we are capable of doing in this dressing room and teams are now realising what we are about and they are showing us a lot more respect when we play them at home.
“There is a lot more expectation around the place to make Deepdale a fortress and to win our home games and in turn teams are coming and setting up to frustrate us as much as they can, whereas last season the game was a lot more open than it is now.
“So I think it is vital that we stick to our game plan and keep try and keep our performances high and win our home games.
“There is a lot more expectation at home. Away from home you are always going to go and try and frustrate the home team and it is down to them to come out and show what they are about, so it is the same for us at home. There is an expectation amongst for the crowd for us to go and take it to the opposition.
“Teams are coming, setting up defensively, trying to frustrate us, but it is up to us and what we have in the dressing room to try and unlock the keys to their defence and then get the first goal, because then the game will open up a bit more, which might play to our strengths. It is vital we continue to start brightly and take things from there.
“There is great competition in the squad for places this year. We are a very adaptable dressing room; we can go with a number of different formations and styles of play and we work hard on the training pitch on how the gaffer wants us to play on a weekend, but we can change it up if a game is not going well, depending on the opposition and adapt quickly to what is asked of us and play with the best formation to go and win a game.
“Nobody is going to treat us as underdogs anymore. If you look at the Newcastle game, it could have gone very differently and if it had we would have gone ten games unbeaten, which is some achievement in this league.
“It is probably one of the most competitive, if not the most competitive Championship in a long time.
“It is important we just continue to treat every game as it comes, treat every team we play with respect, but not with any fear and try to pick up the result in every game. We could have been unbeaten in ten, we could also have had a few more wins in there, but having said that, what is done is done; we are happy with how we are doing. We want to keep pushing on. We are only a couple of points outside of the Play-Offs, but having said that, it is very tight from fifth to 18th, so it is very important to keep picking results up, because you can get some good results and see yourself flying up the table and on the other end, if you go through a bit of a sticky patch you can find yourself back down, with work to do, so we need to keep racking the points up and see where that takes us come the turn of the year.”
There’s loads more from Greg, including his love of festive football, plus interviews with Kevin Gallacher, Sam Gallagher, Tommy Spurr, Alex Baptiste and Simon Makienok in Saturday’s 100 page edition of The One And Only.
There’s also all our regular features and plenty on our opponents and the programme will be on sale from Friday afternoon from the Sir Tom Finney Stand ticket office or from sellers inside and outside the ground on matchday.