After returning to action following the international break with a disappointing 2-1 defeat at struggling Reading, Preston North End’s push for promotion is now once again building momentum.
Having followed up that defeat at the Madejski Stadium with a 1-1 draw at home to Leeds and a come from behind 3-2 win over Blackburn, Alex Neil’s side have now lifted themselves back up to second in the Championship standings.
With almost a third of the season now complete, it does seem as though Preston are set to have a big say in the battle for a place in the Premier League this season.
If they are to succeed in that however, they will need significant contributions from every member of their squad, and here, we’ve taken a look at three unlikely players who could have a big part to play in achieving those ambitions.
Having joined North End from League One Rochdale in January, it was a difficult start to life at Deepdale for the left-back, with Rafferty starting just four games during his first half a season at Deepdale.
Since the start of this campaign however, things have started to look up for the 26-year-old, with an injury to Andrew Hughes earning Rafferty a place in the side that he has certainly made his own.
Having started 10 of Preston’s last 12 league games despite Hughes’ return from injury, it does look as though as Rafferty could have a big part to play this year, with his solidity at the back and dangerous runs going forward meaning it could be difficult for Hughes to win back his place in the side.
Can Preston convert their good start into a push for promotion?
Another player to have made the step up the leagues in January to join Preston, this time from Exeter, Stockley has found opportunities harder to come by at the start of this season than he did in the second half of the last.
Stockley has so far made just a single league start for North End this season, but the striker may be feeling that that could soon change, following his impact off the bench as Alex Neil’s side came from 2-0 down to take a 3-2 win.
Having been brought on just 30 minutes into the game, Stockley’s physicality created all sorts of problems for the Rovers defence, and was arguably something of a catalyst for the turrnaround in the scoreline, with Blackburn’s backline consistently struggling to deal with the long balls sent up towards Stockley.
With his influence in that having been acknowledged post-match by Alex Neil, you feel that could make Stockley someone for the Scotsman to turn to when his side find themselves in similarly tricky situations going forward this season.
Admittedly, this doesn’t seem quite as unlikely now as it may have done a few weeks ago, the big impact Barkhuizen has made recently means he is still worth acknowledging here.
With three goals in his last two games – including a stunning late winner against Blackburn – Barkhuizen now has five league goals this season, meaning he is already well on track to beat his previous season’s best since joining from Morecambe in January 2017, which was eight during the 2017/18 campaign.
Considering the points he has earned them recently, it seems as though the attacker could have a big part to play this season, and the recent links with German giants Bayer Leverkusen only serve to highlight just how much of a breakthrough few months this has been for the attacker.