Preston North End goalkeeper Declan Rudd says that there is a real determination in the squad to take full advantage of the position they find themselves in, as the Championship resumes this weekend.
The Lilywhites No.1 told iFollow PNE, in an extended chat, that he is excited about the return and is starting to get butterflies, as the team prepare to head to Kenilworth Road to face Luton Town in the resumption of hostilities.
“It actually feels like time has gone quite quickly now that we are here, but at the time it seemed like it was taking for ever,” said the man who signed a new contract during lockdown. “It has been nice since the date of the return was announced, because we have had something to work towards and a structured schedule. It has been good to have that date to work to and to finally nearly be there is quite exciting.
“You get that feeling in the back of your head. You have a day off and you think ‘I’m not doing anything, I am saving my energy, I’m making sure I am ready for that matchday’, whereas for the past three months, you have had nothing to hold yourself back for, you have got that determination to be ready for that.
“With the position we are in, we’d be stupid not to take it, because it is a life-changing position to be in. I witnessed it at Norwich with the gaffer before and to achieve that promotion is a feeling that you can’t create unless you actually do it and if we are stupid enough not to take every single opportunity we can to make that happen; if we fall short knowing we have done everything we possibly can, then so be it, but the last thing you want to do is not do it, knowing you haven’t done everything you can.
“The feeling we are getting going into this game is that the hunger is there and we want to get back out there. There are a few little butterflies, but it is a big opportunity and that will only help us.”
Getting minutes under his belt was something the custodian was grateful of last week and weekend, with a couple of games at Deepdale and a trip to face Premier League Burnley at Turf Moor on Saturday lunchtime.
“It is something that you can’t do in training,” he continued. “You can do all the sessions and exercises you want, but nothing creates that matchday feeling of being in a game, because you don’t know what the opposition are going to do most of the time.
“When you are in training, everyone works on the same things, so you can predict certain things, but being in a game situation is completely different.
“We played a couple of in-house games at the ground and then at Burnley at the weekend and it was a really good test and through us straight into the deep end, against top quality opposition and we came through that really well. It made us hit the ground running and got us to speed quickly.”
That experience against the Clarets gave some idea of what is to come, with the behind closed doors environment the players will face in the coming weeks and the former Norwich City man feels it will teach players a lot about themselves.
“We had a bit of a taste of it at the weekend, but playing a competitive game behind closed doors is a bit different to playing a friendly behind closed doors. They see every game you go out to win you play to win, which you do, but in a friendly there is that feeling where there is not three points on offer at the end of it, so some players relax a bit more and it brings the best out of some players.
“So, when you go back into that competitive environment, playing for three points and playing for promotion and there is not a crowd there to get you going, you need to find a way of getting that adrenaline pumping in your body and getting that matchday feeling going.
“I am hoping we can take last Saturday’s game into this Saturday, because the way we performed was brilliant and we can really take a lot out of that.
“When the game is in play, you don’t really notice there is no crowd, because you are concentrating on the game, it is just after a goal or a tackle, where you don’t hear the crowd realty get going which is strange, but I am sure we will used to it quickly enough.
“I think everyone is going to learn quite a bit from it – learn how to get themselves really up for a game without the external buzz for the crowd.”
A lot of people have talked about trying to get a good start to the remaining nine games, but Dec was keen to stress that even if results don’t go the way the team want from the off, it is not all doom and gloom: “If you go and lose a game, it doesn’t mean it is all over.
“You have to look at it as a nine-game season and we just have to take more points that the teams below us. As long as we take more points than them, we finish in the Play-Offs.
“It is not going to be the end of everything if we lose a couple of games and also it is not going to guarantee we are in the Play-Offs if we go and win five games. We shouldn’t put too much pressure on ourselves to go out and have to win every game.
“We want to win every game and it would make our jobs a lot easier and the fans’ lives a lot easier, but if we lose game it is not over. There is enough points to play for, not to worry if you do lose a game.
“I heard the gaffer say that the way we started the season in the first nine games, gave us the momentum and then the dip that we had mid-way through the season gave us that safety net to fall back on, because of the good start we had. If we take that into account and go and do the same now, the quickly you build momentum, the better it is. If we can build a gap between us and the teams below us, it will pile the pressure on them, but football is not always that simple, so it is just about staying level and remembering that if the first couple of games don’t go to plan, there is still plenty to play for.
“You have to remember that we haven’t played any competitive football for maybe four months, so it is not just going to come straight out and we have to approach games knowing that and make sure we build ourselves into it and not get carried away.”
With Luton’s re-appointment of Nathan Jones over the lockdown period, North End go into the game without their usual dossier’s of previous games, but that is something the ’keeper feels will be of benefit.
“We usually have a few meetings in the lead up, but we are not allowed to do that, so it is up to us as individuals about whether you take that time out of your own day to do it. We have been sent all the information about what is possibly coming, but it could all be completely different with the new manager coming in.
“That helps us in some way, because we just need to concentrate on ourselves and after not playing games for so long, concentrating on yourself probably is the most important thing, because you need to get yourself going again and as a team we need to get back to what we do well and if we go out there worrying too much about the opposition, we can forget about those fundamentals of our team.”
And what of the fans? It would have been a sell-out away end back in March, something Dec is well aware of and using as an additional bit of motivation: “We know that our support on the road is unbelievable.
“We take so many away fans to away games that are such long trips – they commit in absolute numbers. In the back of our heads we know that the fans had committed themselves to coming to this game and we owe it to them.
“The support we get on away games incredible considering how far it is to travel and what it costs these days; for us to be able to still play in the game and hopefully put out a good performance is the least we can do for everyone,” he added.
To watch the full 15 minutes with Dec, just click on the video at the top of the page, as we look ahead to Preston North End's first game since mid-March, and remember, match passes for the game at Luton Town are now on sale from iFollow - click here now to purchase yours.