Boss Simon Grayson says Josh Brownhill remains very much in his plans at Preston North End despite a lack of action this season.
On Boxing Day two years ago, the young midfielder hit PNE’s winner against Carlisle, that goal coming in his breakthrough season.
Brownhill made 30 appearances in that campaign and a further 28 last term, but this season has played only three times in the first team.
North End manager Grayson says he did consider loaning the 20-year-old out last month in order to get game time.
However, that did not mean he was out of the equation in the long term.
Grayson said: “Josh is young and is still learning the game.
“Paul Gallagher, Daniel Johnson and Alan Browne have been the ones in possession of the midfield shirts in recent weeks.
“Then we have got John Welsh and Neil Kilkenny, so there is good competition.
“In the last six weeks or so, I have seen that Josh is really back on it.
“We have had a couple of bounce games in which he has scored a few goals, while he has looked sharp in training.
“I would have no worries about starting Josh in the Christmas games if I had to, or having him coming off the bench.
“He’s a good footballer and one who is going to improve as he gets older.
“We nearly let him out on loan before the loan window shut last month because he was getting frustrated and we thought it might benefit him to get some games.
“But he’s back around it here and was on the bench at Leeds last Sunday.
“I could easily have started him against Leeds but in the end I decided to go with John Welsh.
“Josh has a part to play here, as do all the other lads who are in our squad.”
Grayson thinks that with Brownhill breaking into the first-team picture when he was only 17, there was bound to be an element of levelling out.
But he says the talent is there for him to push on again and progress.
“Josh scored on his debut at Gillingham and made such a good start,” said Grayson.
“Having had such a good start, there was always going to be a dip at some point down the line.
“It is how players adapt to that dip, how they continue to develop and learn.”
Another young player to have broken into the PNE squad recently is goalkeeper Matt Hudson, 17.
He came off the bench to play an hour of last Sunday’s defeat at Leeds after Jordan Pickford was sent off.
Grayson says Hudson’s bow in the first team capped a return to full fitness after he suffered a serious injury.
“Matt dislocated his kneecap in a bounce game towards the end of last season,” said Grayson.
“He did it taking a goalkick and it was a bad one.
“Alan Kelly has done a lot of work with him to re-shape how he kicks the ball in the longer term.”