Tom Barkhuizen has been involved in over 70 successive league games for the Lilywhites and is ready to go again after the international break.
The North End No.29 feels that the break came at a good time for the squad and that their ‘work in progress’ has been given some extra time to find its feet and is looking forward to returning to action this weekend.
Paul Clement’s Reading are the visitors to Deepdale, but with PNE undefeated at PR1 so far this season, they are looking forward to playing in front of the home crowd once again, according to the attacker.
“The way that we play, the intensity always high – which is probably the same for a lot of teams now, who are trying to press on the front foot – and it is important to get a rest, because it is a long, hard season,” Barky told iFollow PNE.
“I don’t think people give the lower leagues enough credit, because the likes of League One and Two just keep playing and have 55-plus games if they have good cup runs, which is tough; but thankfully we do get a rest, but are back at it now, getting ready for Saturday.
“You have to have two or three different ideas for every game. Teams might press one week and sit off the next. If you look at the Swansea game, they pressed us in the first half and sat off us in the second and you have to be intelligent enough as a team – and as an individual – to notice that and adapt your game.
“At the moment we are probably a bit of a work in progress where we are trying to find that balance, trying to figure it out, and hopefully during this break we can work on things tactically and start getting ourselves up the table.”
Injuries and suspensions haven’t made it easy for manager Alex Neil to have a stable squad in training, let alone in games, but this adversity is something Tom believes the squad can thrive on.
“At the start of the season we could play 11 versus 11 and have subs on both teams; now we have gone out, are going out and doing an 8 versus 8 and are pretty bare,” he continued. “Callum and Burkey are to come back in, but we are a bit light due to the suspensions and injuries.
“Like last year, we will pull together as a team and we need to get back to fighting for every point and picking those points up.
“We have thrived when we have been in these situations in the past and that shows how tight the dressing room is. When we sign new players we integrate them pretty quickly and we do look after each other in the dressing room.
“We probably need to get back to taking that out onto the pitch and if we can get back to doing what we were doing well last season, then it shouldn’t be too hard to start picking up wins.”
Reading themselves have had a difficult start to the season, but their performances have not been reflected in their results, similar to North End, and the former Morecambe man is expecting a tough test: “I don’t think you can underestimate anyone in the league. Look at ourselves, we are down in 19th and no one will be looking at us thinking we are a poor team.
“We face every team as if it is a team that is going to be fighting for promotion, because that’s how tight this league is. There are always three or four who stand out as the favourites to get promotion, but then the next few places are really up for grabs for everyone else. This league seems to be getting stronger and stronger each year.
“Reading will no doubt be sat in the dressing room or working at the training ground, working really hard and looking and thinking a couple of wins will move them in the direction they want to go. We will see it as a really tough game and not one we can go into taking it lightly.”
Tom’s own form at Deepdale has been affected by teams doubling up on him and sitting deep to nullify his attributes, but he says he is working to find ways to combat this and has good memories of facing the Royals at Deepdale, after announcing himself with a stunning goal and performance against them in his first few months with the club
“It would be nice to have another day like that this weekend. My home form hasn’t been great. Teams come to Deepdale and try to nullify my main strength.
"I need to adapt to try and play different ways and that is probably a bit of a work in progress, but hopefully I can get back to scoring goals and creating things, because that is what I am good at.
“It is a little bit frustrating at times – just because you are quick doesn’t mean you can take on three or four people at a time with the ball; it is hard if you are double-up-ed on every time you have the ball, but the manager wants me to stretch the game and bring other people into the game.
“I am not a selfish player; if me running away from the ball stretches the game and brings other people into it, then that is what I will do. You have to play to your strengths and it is about working as a team. I am a big team player and will do what the manager wants me to do.
“I have confidence in myself that things will come; I had a pretty good year last year creating and scoring goals and I am sure that once I get going this year, it will be the same,” he added.
To watch the full extended interview with Tom Barkhuizen, just click on the video link at the top of the page – all iFollow PNE video interviews are available free of charge without the need for a subscription.