Preston North End forward Tom Barkhuizen feels the extended rest for him and his team-mates will give them a boost heading to Reading this weekend.
The Lilywhites’ No.29 enjoyed the international break and says that the squad have come back sharp and ready to prepare for another intensive period of fixtures, beginning at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.
“It has been a tough few months,” Tom told iFollow PNE. “I know we have already had one international break, but it is difficult and relentless, especially with the cup games in there as well.
“The gaffer gave us an extra couple of days off, which was good, and everyone has come back in now, looking sharp, so we are good to go.
“Because we play so hard and we train so hard the rest is important. It is nice to have the extra days off and the gaffer has looked at it and thought we need that a little bit more and we have been looked after on a more individual level as well, so that if someone has played three games in a week, they might get an extra recovery day.
“We are picking up less injuries. I know we have had a couple of niggles here and there, but there is nothing too serious at the moment, which is always handy at this stage of the season.
“It is probably going to be tough [to pick the team at Reading], because the gaffer has some big players back, but we have just won 5-1, so I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. But from my point of view, hopefully I have done enough to stay in the team and we can go and get a result.”
After a good start to the season, the 26-year-old understands the supporters’ excitement, but says that the dressing room is focused game to game: “As a fan, you are naturally going to get excited, but as a player and the team in the dressing room as a collective, we just need to stay grounded, take it game by game and not look too far ahead,” he continued.
“We can’t worry about what other teams are doing and that’s what we have been doing all season.
“After the game we will all check our phones, but that is more because it is natural to do so, not worrying where we are. We just need to pick up wins, pick up draws and try and stay unbeaten, because we are in a really good place at the moment and we want to keep it going.
“The key is, if we lose a game, not to panic. It is easy to get in that situation where you lose a game and you panic and you lose another and suddenly you drop ten or 11 places, because it is so tight, with three points between top and eighth or ninth.
“At this stage usually a couple of teams have pulled away, but it is a lot tighter this year and we just have to take it game by game, keep our feet on the ground and keep picking up points where we can.”
The Royals will have Mark Bowen at the helm for the first time when they entertain PNE on Saturday, which means manager Alex Neil will not be able to present as much information as would normally be the case and ‘Barky’ says that they must just concentrate on their own form.
“It probably frustrates the gaffer that he can’t pinpoint weaknesses and show that to us, because that is a massive part of what he does.
“He spends a lot of time with our analysts looking at how we can hurt teams, so it is probably frustrating to him.
“But we are playing with a lot of confidence at the moment and it is going to be difficult no matter what manager they have got.
“We know they are going to come out flying, fighting for a new manager and we just have to go there, play our own game, play as we have been doing the last few weeks and hopefully get the three points.”
Whilst the team’s record in Berkshire hasn’t been the best, Tom has great personal memories of playing against Reading, winning the goal of the month with a stunning strike against them at Deepdale, which he admits was quite some time ago.
“It is a long time ago now! It’s about two and a half years ago and time has flown by.
“Our record against them since I have been here hasn’t been good; we lost both games last year, but we have to go there and not worry about that and what has happened in the past.
“We need to go and play well and do what we can do, because if we do that, then we should give ourselves every opportunity,” he added.