DARREN Pratley hopes hard graft can pay off for both himself and Wanderers in 2013.
It’s safe to say things haven’t gone according to plan for the box-to-box midfielder since he swapped then-Premier League new boys Swansea City for the Reebok the summer before last.
After failing to completely establish himself in a struggling side, a debilitating bout of illness ruled him out of the relegation run-in, and also ate into his pre-season under Owen Coyle.
It has been similarly frustrating experience for the Londoner in the Championship, where he had to wait until Dougie Freedman’s first game in charge against Cardiff City for his first start.
Perhaps as a result of his staccato appearances, Pratley has thus far shown little of the form that had inspired Swansea to the big time, with 19 goals in two seasons. But the 27-year-old hopes all that is about to change.
On the back of a fine performance against Birmingham City, Pratley heads into today’s clash with Leeds United with a clean slate.
As much as he still needs to win over some sections of the supporters, it is worth noting that Wanderers have not lost a game that he has started this term.
And though he has not benefited as much as some from Freedman’s much-discussed squad rotation system, there is something in Pratley’s attitude that makes you wonder whether that is about to change.
“It has been stop-start but I don’t think I have anything to prove,” said the former Arsenal trainee of his first 18 months in the North West. “I know in myself that I work hard every day in training. I haven’t played the games I wanted to since I have been here but all I can do is try.
“The manager picks the team and all we can do as players is keep ourselves fit and respect what the manager is doing. He has done well since he came in, so whatever team he picks, he will get full support from me.
“All I can do is look after myself and then, when called upon, try to do well.”
Of Pratley’s 46 appearances for the club so far, 22 have come from the bench. Finding a position that suits his style often seems to have been a problem, not least for Coyle, whose search for the right blend in midfield seemed a never-ending one.
Against Birmingham, Freedman put Pratley in behind target man Kevin Davies and the results were encouraging.
The man himself is taking nothing for granted.
“Different managers have different opinions, different systems and different ways of playing,” he said. “All I’ve done since I have been here is kept my head down. I haven’t moaned, thrown my toys out of the pram, I haven’t come into training and let any of my team-mates down by not working hard.
“From that point of view I always stay positive.
“Against Birmingham the most important thing was to win after those two defeats, to give us a bit of confidence ahead of the Leeds game.
“No-one is guaranteed to play today, but whoever he picks, we need to get the first back-to-back wins so we can march up the league and get into the play-offs.
“Once we do that, I think the wins will follow. Until we do, I think it is always going to be at the back of people’s minds.”
Pratley’s last action as a Swansea player was to score from halfway against Nottingham Forest to send Brendan Rogers’ side hurtling towards the play-off final against Reading.
And his knowledge at this level could well prove an important tool as Wanderers look to finally rid themselves of a relegation hangover in time to make any impression on the promotion picture themselves.
Pratley insists the prize is still available.
“I think it is still there for us,” he said. “We’re 14th and eight points away from Watford in the play-offs. It’s all to play for.
“Everyone beats everyone and I have been in this position a few times before so you just have to stay positive.
“The fans have been behind us and if they can keep with us then I can’t see why not.”