Preston North End’s in form forward Tom Barkhuizen feels the whole club is benefitting from a shift in expectation.
The Lilywhites’ No.29, who has scored three in his last three starts, feels the relative success of last season weighed heavy on the team and the club as a whole in the opening weeks of the campaign, but feels that now that they are the underdog again, that they are in a better place.
Speaking to iFollow PNE, the 25-year-old says he believes that no one should go into a game expecting to win and each opponent should be treated with equal respect and if they do that, they can work hard and earn the right to win.
Looking back to the recent games, he also says that each game is unique and nothing can be taken for granted: “Brentford probably played five per cent of the ball long, whilst Rotherham their strength is playing 95 per cent of the ball long,” he said.
“Luckily for us we can mix it up a little bit and do both, but every team in the league is completely different and from players, to fans, to staff, you can’t go into any game thinking ‘we should be winning this game’ – anyone can beat anyone.
“There are no stand out weak teams anymore and we just need to remain focused and not thinking that any game is easy, because no game will be easy.
“[Ipswich] is about seven hours away and our fans will go there probably thinking ‘we should win this one’, but we need to keep our expectations on the ground and go there like we are playing the top of the league.
“Paul Lambert could go in there and turn them around. Last year they were pretty strong and I don’t think they’ve made many changes.
“Looking at the start of the season we have probably come undone as a club – not just as a team – where people have maybe expected us to be in the top six and fighting for promotion, basing it off last year and not treating it as a new season.
“If you look at some of the teams in the league, you would be crazy to think we should be beating them to automatic promotion or the Play-Offs, but the run we have had may prove to be good for everyone.
“It has brought everyone’s feet back to the ground and normality, where we are back to being the underdog and that’s where, I think, the club works well.
“The fact that expectations have maybe lowered will help us and it puts a little bit less pressure on people and we can get back to take some big three points rather than thinking ‘we should be winning them’, which is what we have done over the last five games, then everyone will be happy again.”
Tom broke a run of league appearances for the Lilywhites going back to the 2016/17 season when he missed the recent trip to Hull City, but he is feeling the benefit of getting a long-running ankle issue resolved and feels that the team is also on the up after an unbeaten October.
“As a team, in general, we have picked up,” he continued. “In three or four of the five games in October we have played pretty well. The Brentford game typified us as a team, as did the Wigan game and it is nice to have that feeling back in the dressing room that we are winning, get the confidence flowing and getting moving up the table.
“[Getting the ankle sorted ] was more important for the long term. It was getting worse and worse after the Leeds cup game and I wasn’t really sure what was going on with it.
“We went for a scan and to see a specialist about it and got it done. It was a little bit frustrating, because I have been proud of the fact I haven’t really missed any games through injury and it was a little bit frustrating to miss one and not be able to help the team, but I have come back and scored two in two, so I am happy with that.
“I don’t feel any pain now. After the Aston Villa game, I came off and I couldn’t walk with it. It was a strange feeling, because I didn’t think I had done any damage; I couldn’t pinpoint anything like that, so it was a little bit frustrating at the time. But Jacko [physio Matt Jackson] has looked after me and got me playing again.”
You can watch more from Tom in the video link at the top of the page – remember all iFollow video interviews are free, without the need for a subscription.