Premier League lessons, promotion hopes and rooting for City – Rudd on life as Preston’s number one
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After Norwich City’s victory at Preston in the FA Cup, David Freezer caught up with former Canaries keeper Declan Rudd to look back on his Premier League experience and a memorable win at Manchester United.
After showing such patience for his Norwich City chances, it seemed like Declan Rudd's career had finally taken off as he soaked in the memorable celebrations at Old Trafford in 2015.
The Norfolk-born academy product had a League One winners' medal and 18 months of loan experience in the third tier with Preston on his CV by the time he got a run of games in the top flight with the Canaries, as a 24-year-old.
After a whole season as cover for John Ruddy during the Championship promotion campaign of 2014-15, the Diss-raised keeper was given his chance as City's established number one was removed from the firing line for a spell by Alex Neil.
Just three games into that stint Rudd was enjoying a landmark result which almost changed the complexion of the whole season, as goals from Cameron Jerome and Alex Tettey earned the Canaries' first win at Manchester United in 26 years - with the stopper crucially saving a Juan Mata free-kick.
The shirt worn that night is now framed and hangs on a wall at the home of the current Preston North End number one and remains a treasured memory, with Neil's team going on to win two of their next three games as well to leave themselves six points clear of the relegation zone with 18 matches to play.
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Sadly however, that was as good as it got. A downturn in form saw Ruddy reclaim the gloves after 11 games on the bench but Norwich were on their way back to the Championship by then and the following season Rudd was back on loan in League One at Charlton.
"I probably learned more about myself than anything, to be honest," the keeper recalls, ahead of City's return to the scene of the Old Trafford triumph on Saturday. "Being in such a high pressure scenario and having to deal with that, was big for me.
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"It was probably the best three months of my career, played in some amazing game and some good moments, we had a great Christmas period and a couple of clean sheets (beating Aston Villa and Southampton at Carrow Road).
"It was great but it's all the past now. It's something I'll never forget and I'll remember each and every game in that season."
After a good campaign with Charlton there was to be no return to City under the new regime being put in place by Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke, leading to a permanent return to Preston in a deal reportedly worth around £1million in 2017.
That brought Rudd back under the management of Neil soon after the deal had been secured, after Simon Grayson unexpectedly left for Sunderland, with North End chiefs assuring the keeper that Neil would be giving him a clean slate as they were reunited at Deepdale in unusual circumstances.
Injury meant waiting until the second half of 2017-18 to become first choice, including keeping a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with the Canaries in Lancashire. Ever since he has reclaimed number one status at Preston, losing 2-0 to the eventual champions at Carrow Road last season but saving a penalty as Neil enjoyed a 3-1 win over his former club in the return fixture.
"I'm still a Norwich fan, the first thing that pops up on my phone is the Norwich result and that's the one thing, I want the club to do well, regardless of if I'm there or not," Rudd continued.
"It's made me what I am today, gave me a chance to be a footballer, it's something that I'll never forget and something that I'd always like to repay the club for at any time, so it's always going to be right at the top of my memories."
Rudd was one of the nine players rested for North End's 4-2 defeat to Norwich in the FA Cup third round on Saturday, with understudy Connor Ripley having a day to forget, with errors for three of the goals, as teenager Adam Idah stole the show for the visitors.
However, despite that adding to a dip in form of just two wins in the last eight league games, Preston sit 10th and just two points adrift of the top six, keeping hopes alive of a play-off place and the chance of ending 59 years outside of the top flight.
"It's tight, there's about three points separating 10 teams, so every game is pretty much like a cup tie because even if you draw you lose some ground on the opposition above you," concluded Rudd, who joined the Canaries at eight years old.
"We had a great start to the season, that's what's put us where we are. We're in a bit of a sticky patch at the minute, but who doesn't have that at some point? There's still a long way to go but I'm sure that we've got the right mentality to get through it."