Goalkeeper Declan Rudd believes that North End have the perfect opportunity to capitalise on having players returning to the first team set-up and begin putting a good run of results together, starting with Saturday’s fixture against Queens Park Rangers.
North End had a number of injuries to deal with over the last few months, particularly over the Christmas period which left the squad stretched. However, with plenty of those players returning to full fitness, and the addition of January’s new signings, the squad is looking a lot stronger.
Speaking to iFollow PNE, Rudd thinks that the competition and depth in the squad is a positive and gives the team the chance to kick on with every player looking to cement their place in Alex Neil’s starting XI.
“It’s a big volume of players at the minute,” said Rudd. “Over Christmas we had about ten to 12 injuries and they seem to all be coming back this week. All the new lads are available and it’s creating a bit of a selection headache I should imagine for the gaffer.
“But, it’s good to have that strength in the squad and we, over the Christmas period, were bare on numbers and we were playing people out of position because there was no-one else to fit in there.
“It was a tough period for us and they were tough games, but we came through it ok and it’s a good time now to push on with everyone back fit.”
People playing out of position was a theme in last weekend’s fixture to Swansea, especially after North End suffered injuries to defensive duo Tom Clarke and Paul Huntington. It meant a re-shuffle at the back, but Rudd admitted he was impressed by how players, including Andrew Hughes, adapted to their new roles.
“Hughesy, for example has been playing left back, he’s played centre half in the past but not for a long time so being a goalkeeper behind, seeing all of the picture, its sometimes easier for me to give him a few pointers as the game is going on just to get him in the right positions,” said Rudd.
“It is a bit out of his usual comfort zone because he has been playing left back but he didn’t really need too much coaching, he stepped in there and did a brilliant job, so it was credit to him.”
Equally, he complemented North End’s No.8 Alan Browne on the quality of his performance after he had to slot in to the left back spot. The Irishman seems to have played almost everywhere for the Lilywhites and Rudd joked that he might be after the goalkeeping spot next.
"I’m getting a bit worried actually! I’m waiting for that opportunity where he gets put in but it just shows his versatility. You can put him anywhere and he’ll play there, and it just shows how much he has come on as a player and as a person since he joined.
“I don’t think, no matter where he plays, anybody is worried about the performance because he is always going to put in 100 per cent and he’s always going to perform for you.”
PNE travel to Loftus Road on Saturday to take on QPR who have turned their season around after a difficult start to the campaign under Steve McLaren. They have risen to 11th in the table and sit just four points off the Play-Offs and Rudd acknowledged it will be a challenging game.
“Obviously, Steve McLaren, everyone knows how good a coach he is and it was only going to be a matter of time before his methods took place in their team and that seems to be coming into their game now so it’s going to be tough,” he added.
“It’s always tough going there, it’s a hard ground to go to and when they get on top, they create a good atmosphere and it’s always a tough game.
“I think we thrive on those sorts of games, as a team we like to get stuck in and when the game is against us we quite like it so it’s going to be one we are all looking forward to and hopefully we can get a nice little run going again.
“I remember last year I think we took quite a big following as well. In that second half when you are shooting downhill towards that goal and they’re in the top tier of that stand it does help with the momentum and hopefully they can do that again.
“They’re always there in their big numbers and they’re always singing loud and sort of are the 12th man for us. It will be good to have them behind us and hopefully we can get the three points.
Preparation for games like Saturday is key and behind the scenes, North End’s analysts are always working hard to provide the information required on opposition teams for Alex Neil and his coaching staff. They study upcoming opponents hoping to spot weaknesses or patterns that North End could look to target and implement into their game plan.
Rudd was full of praise for the analysis team and he explained that the work they do is vital for the manager and the players heading into a game and how they approach it.
“I think they are the hardest workers at the club. They are in watching five, six, seven games of the previous opposition’s games and they look for every little pattern of play that they have, every little weakness they have.
“The analysts and the gaffer sit down and put it all into a meeting and we just go in for half an hour and get told it all. But they are working day in, day out looking at every little aspect of the opposition’s game and they don’t get the credit they deserve because they are working hard behind the scenes.”
Listen to the full interview with Dec on iFollow PNE now by clicking on the video above.