Preston North End defender Joe Rafferty has said it felt unbelievable to be back in the starting eleven following his side’s 4-1 Carabao Cup win over Cheltenham Town last night.
The Lilywhites defender is yet to make a Championship appearance for Preston this season, with his only opportunities to play so far coming in the Carabao Cup.
Speaking to PNE iFollow after the full-time whistle, Rafferty opened up about how he felt being back in the side.
“It was unbelievable,” he explained.
“I’ve been really frustrated in the past few weeks, all the lads know how I feel, and it is hard. You train all week and you haven’t got anything on a Saturday, it’s not a nice feeling in all honesty.
“When the game came today, I made sure I was ready. I had this game in mind, it’s been a few weeks now since the last one. I just thought I had to go out there and put on a good performance and see where it takes me.
“It’s been tough, I’m not going to lie, it has been tough. Overall, I was just delighted to score. I was made up.”
Back in the eleven, Rafferty also managed to get on the scoresheet, scoring Preston’s second of the night after getting on the end of a lovely cross whipped in by Greg Cunningham.
It was a dubious goal though, with the ball having took a big deflection off of a Cheltenham defender before finding its way into the back of the net.
“I think it was going in the bottom corner, so it might have been off the shin pad or something but you’ve got to take them,” Rafferty joked.
“Greg was putting some unbelievable balls in the box, I just felt that if I kept getting into the right position, one was going to come.
“We work hard on that, that’s what we do. When we come to do some shape and stuff like that, we work hard on getting numbers in the box and wing back to wing back, especially when Greg’s putting in balls like that, you can’t not get in the box.”
Rafferty’s goal meant Preston went into half time looking comfortable with a two-goal lead, but Cheltenham scored 11 minutes into the second half, hoping to make a game of it.
Late goals from Sean Maguire and Emil Riis Jakobsen saw them off eventually, but Rafferty said they knew Cheltenham would be a tough test.
“It was a good game, we knew it was going to be tough. They’re doing well in the league and obviously got promoted last season, they’re a really good team. No-one took it lightly, we’ve got players there who are proving points to be in the team. We had everyone on it and I thought we did really well,” he said.
“In the majority of the games, you’ve got to go through a spell where the opposition are on top, it’s just about weathering that storm and we didn’t do it, they got the goal and came back into the game, we can say we let them in but they did well to get back in the game.
“We had to weather the storm and keep ahead in the game and then once Sean (Maguire) scored it was game over really.”
Asked who he hoped Preston would meet in the next round, the former Liverpool academy player admitted he wants to play at Anfield, but would be happy with a winnable tie.
“It’s always a tough one, you never know who you want. Personally I want to play at Anfield but sometimes you want a team lower than you or in the same (division) to give yourselves a chance of progressing.
“I think the majority of us want to go and get someone who are winnable. We haven’t really got that choice, we don’t get to choose that so whoever we get we’ll do our best and try to go through again.”
Preston will find out their fourth round opponents tonight, with the draw for the next round set to take place after the match between Manchester United and West Ham.
After being limited to cup appearances so far this season, Joe Rafferty will be delighted that his goal has contributed to the Lilywhites progression into the last 16 of the competition, where he hopes he may get the chance to play at Anfield.
It was an open and honest interview from the 27-year-old who sounds as though he has been going through a really frustrating period whilst out of the side.
He will be hoping he won’t have to wait for the next cup game for an opportunity in the starting eleven.