Preston North End’s top scorer Joe Garner has taken a big step forward in his recovery from injury by returning to training with the squad.
But PNE assistant manager Glynn Snodin insists the front man will not be rushed back into match action after the surgery which has sidelined him since November.
Garner, who scored 12 goals before his injury, has joined fellow casualties Jordan Hugill and Andy Little back on the Springfields training pitch.
Snodin, who was on media duty ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Crawley, said: “We are getting lads back in training now with Jordan, Joe and Andy.
“When you look at them out there on the training pitch they look fine, no different to anyone else.
“But throw them into a match situation and it would be completely different.
“At least they are out there on the grass and we can monitor them ourselves.
“They are getting the feel for the football again, not just running and swimming.
“We won’t be rushing them back – we have to make sure the time is right for them.
“They have to build up their fitness and could do with some bounce games as well.
“At the moment they are definitely not ready for match action.”
Garner suffered a detatched tendon from the top of his shin bone after landing awkwardly in the 1-0 win over Bristol City.
Fellow front man Hugill has been sidelined since September, undergoing microfracturing surgery to repair damaged knee cartilage.
Little joined the injury list earlier in the month after suffering a groin strain in training.
With Jermaine Beckford ill with an inner ear infection and likely to miss the Crawley trip, attacking options are limited.
Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Kevin Davies are the options to play up front tomorrow.
The trip to West Sussex will see a debut for Daniel Johnson after signing from Aston Villa a week ago.
Johnson was cup-tied for the games against Sheffield United and Walsall but is now free to make his Preston bow.
His introduction should add some much-needed creativity to the midfield.
That is just what is needed to lift the January blues at North End – the first month of 2015 having brought only one win so far.
Said Snodin: “Daniel has settled well – he is looking like he has been here for a year, let alone a week.
“We have taken to him straight away and the lad has taken to us. He is a confident lad who wants to get on the ball as often as possible and wants to play.
“Daniel can go box-to-box. He’s an attacking midfielder with a football brain.
“What we like is that he has got a change of gears which means he can pass and move.
“We need to open doors and hopefully the lad can help us do that.
“He can be on the halfway line and then in a blink of an eye be on the edge of the box.
“Hopefully Daniel can get started with us tomorrow.”