Preston North End are bracing themselves for the loss of Jordan Pickford in January.
The highly-rated goalkeeper is set to be recalled from his loan stay at Deepdale by parent club Sunderland.
Although he is on a season’s loan with PNE, the Black Cats have a 10-day period when they can take him back in the transfer window.
That period falls at the beginning of January, meaning he could be going back after the home game with Hull City on December 28.
It is understood that there has not been any official notification yet of a recall.
However, sources in the North East say that Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce wants Pickford back to run the rule over him.
Allardyce was not in charge when Pickford was loaned out, hence him being keen to have a closer look at him.
The plan is for the keeper to train with the Black Cats and be in their first-team squad for the games in January.
Pickford might then be loaned out again in February when the Football League’s loan window opens.
However, Sunderland’s No.2 keeper Vito Mannone has been linked with a move to Italian club Verona. So that might mean Pickford being needed as back-up to Costel Pantillimon.
The 21-year-old has been in excellent form since joining the Lilywhites at the end of July.
In 22 appearances, he has kept 11 clean sheets – 10 of those in the Championship.
The latest shut-out came at Burnley last week, when he made an excellent save to tip a shot from Clarets striker Sam Vokes against the bar.
Pickford has also carried his form on to the international stage, and has recorded three clean sheets in four games for England Under-21s.
He is no stranger to being out on loan – he had spells earlier in his career with Darlington, Alfreton, Burton, Carlisle and Bradford.
North End would clearly need a replacement for Pickford should the call come for him to go back to Wearside.
Even if he was to become available again in February, it would leave them short in January.
A future emergency loan would also be limited to 93 days and there would be a recall clause included.
The obvious replacement would be Sam Johnstone, who performed well when on loan from Manchester United in the second half of last season.
Johnstone wanted to come back in the summer but United kept hold of him while they sorted out of the future of David de Gea.
By the time that situation resolved itself, PNE had changed course and made their move for Pickford.
This season, Johnstone has not played a game in United’s first team, although he was on the bench earlier in the campaign.
In the run-up to the close of the loan window last month, he was linked with a temporary switch to Fulham.
But no move materialised and Johnstone stayed at Old Trafford.
As well as sorting the keeper situation ready for January, North End want to extend the loan of Adam Reach.
The Middlesbrough winger is here until the end of the month and PNE have been impressed with his form.
It is likely that they will try and keep him for the rest of the season.