Preston North End goalkeeper says the squad need to continue working hard and winning games to inspire the next generation of supporters to Deepdale.
Speaking ahead of the Lilywhites’ trip to Birmingham City this weekend, the No.1 said that it was an ‘honour’ to play in front of the fanbase at Deepdale, but that the players should look to do even more.
“Football is a massive driver in the community,” he told iFollow PNE. “I was at Norwich for nearly 20 years and I witnessed everything, from when the club was at its lowest, to when it went through its best times. It really does make a massive impact in the community and that is something we need to look to do.
“As a footballer, you are at the training ground, go home on repeat and if you don’t live in the centre of the area, you don’t know what football does and I think it is important we all realise how big football is to the children around the area.
“All kids enjoy watching their team win games and the more we can do that, the better for everyone.
“At Norwich it was pretty much an older crowd when I first went in and then you saw a lot more younger faces as they had some success; we do see that here. There are a lot of younger fans in our stands and it is an honour to play in front of them.
“They are watching their team and some of their idols who they can hopefully look up to aspire to be like. That was something I did as a kid and something I think we should all look to do for the young lads and girls who come to the stadium – inspire them to be the best they can be.”
Alex Neil’s side have started the season positively with 13 points from their first seven games leaving them just three points behind league leaders Leeds United, very different to the start of the 2018/19 campaign.
“It is chalk and cheese to last year,” continued Dec. “We couldn’t put a performance together for the first ten games last year and there might have been a bit of a hangover from the season before when we missed out on the last day, but this year our one aim for the season was to start strong and we have definitely gone and done that in the first seven games and it is just all about maintaining that now.
“In this league you have to keep something going, because we showed in the space of 12 games, after Christmas, you can go from the bottom six to the top six with a good run and that’s this league, where you can go the other way as well, going ten or so games of bad results.
“You have to make sure that you constantly look to take maximum points in every game, because it can easily change and every game in this league is tough, there are no given three points.
“It is a really strong league and momentum is the biggest thing. You saw it with Norwich City last season. Up until this stage of the season they were in the bottom four and they played us, beat us and from then on went on to win the league and that’s what they momentum does.
“You go into games knowing you are going to get a result, rather than hoping to get a result.
“Personally, [last] Saturday I went out there and I had a good feeling about it. You know how the week’s training goes as a squad and the team you are playing against, we knew if we imposed our game on them, we would come out on top, as we had looked at their weaknesses and our strengths and our strengths can beat most teams on a Saturday.
“Confidence in this league is huge and at the minute our confidence is high, but we have to make sure we don’t get carried away by that and not going into games thinking we have already won or thinking we won’t lose without effort.
“As long as the effort stays there from every single player, we will hopefully kick on even more.”
The custodian is closing in on 150 appearances for the club in his three spells in PR1 and he feels the team are continuing to develop: “The last few years of learning how to play with quite a few injuries and players playing in different positions might have helped us.
“Players are learning to play out of position for a few games and do a job. Joe [Rafferty] has come in and done that. He has played right back and left back and his level of performance has been brilliant.
“It is all credit to him that he has stuck at it and waited for his chance and when he has come into the team, he hasn’t put a foot wrong. It just goes to show that one to 20-odd in the squad are just ready to come in and do the job if they are called upon.”
The start has seen a 100 per cent record at home, but the Diss-born man, knows that more points are needed to be collected on the road, with Birmingham City the next test, including their trailblazing young forward Jude Bellingham, who scored the winner at high-flying Charlton Athletic last weekend.
“Although we have a 100 per cent record at home, we need to start taking points from teams away from home.
“Last year we were the opposite way round, taking points away from home and not quite getting the results at home. It is about getting a happy medium and picking points up no matter where you are playing.
“When you go to St Andrew’s you are going to expect a big crowd and it is a tough place to go. We need to go there and make sure we do all the fundamentals of our game right and if we do that, we will give ourselves every chance.
“When you come in at , you have no fear. The one thing about young lads coming into teams, is that they don’t worry about anything, they just come in and enjoy playing the game. There comes a point where after a certain amount of games, does that player hit a bit of fatigue, because he is not used to playing in the whirlwind of the Championship and that does come to young lads after a good start, but what I have seen of [Bellingham], he looks a really exciting prospect and he is going to keep us on our toes.
“This season we have already played against some of the best strikers in the league and nine times out of ten we have dealt with them, so it is nothing new to us. As long as we keep doing what we have been doing, I am sure everything will be as we want.”
The stopper has had a new centre half pairing in front of him this season, but is very impressed by what he has seen and is enjoying playing behind Patrick Bauer and Ben Davies.
“Consistency in that sort of area is key and Pat has done brilliantly to fit straight in and do as well as he has done.
“The way we do play is a lot different to how he was playing at Charlton. I was there, so I know how they played, how he played and how they set up and to come here and play our way is much, much different. He has come in and taken it in his stride and fit straight into the team.
“The good thing from a goalkeeper’s point of view is that Pat’s first thought is ‘defend’; if he has to stick it in Row Z, it is going in Row Z. That is one thing as a keeper you love playing behind, because you know that he is going to do that he can to defend and stop that ball going in the goal.
“Ben is going to be a top class centre half. He is just getting better and better and if he keeps going the way he is, we are going to have to chain him to the training ground to stop someone snapping him up.
“I love watching him and being behind him as he makes the job look so easy. From when I was here last, he has come on brilliantly and it is fantastic to see,” he added.