One step at a time for PNE ace Joe

Joe Garner salutes the Preston fans at Bramall Lane on Tuesday night

Joe Garner salutes the Preston fans at Bramall Lane on Tuesday night

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Preston North End will handle Joe Garner with care over the coming weeks after his return from injury in the FA Cup win over Sheffield United.

The striker made a cameo appearance as a late substitute in the Bramall Lane clash which set up a fifth round meeting with Manchester United at Deepdale.

He had been sidelined for 10 weeks following surgery to repair a detached tendon at the top of his shin bone.

Garner’s return was slightly ahead of schedule and a huge confidence booster to fans and team-mates alike.

It could be that he has more bench time before being thrown in from the start.

Lilywhites manager Simon Grayson said: “We have not rushed Joe back, we waited for an opportunity to put him back in the squad.

“He has been back training for about two weeks and played at Deepdale in a behind-closed-doors game for 45 minutes on Monday.

“We are still going to have to be very careful with Joe but just seeing him on the bench gave the players a massive lift and also the supporters.

“What we will do is ease him back in and see when he can eventually start a game.

“The last thing I said to Joe before he went on was not to do anything stupid.

“He had only been on for a few minutes and was causing absolute havoc to the defenders!

“That shows he had never lost his appetite and it is great to have him back.

“But we are aware of the need to look after him after a number of weeks out.”

Garner has remained as Preston’s leading scorer with 12 goals despite being sidelined since November 22.

However, Paul Gallagher is now within one goal of that tally following his double at Bramall Lane.

Paul Huntington, also on target on Tuesday, has seven in a season which only began for him in late September.

Gallagher is the leading scorer in this season’s FA Cup with five goals.

His two in midweek came after he found the net in the first game with the Blades at Deepdale and scored twice in the third-round victory over Norwich City.

The 30-year-old is one ahead of Saido Berahino (West Bromwich), Jon Stead (Bradford) and Robert Dale (Blyth Spartans).

With Garner back and Andy Little now available after injury – he travelled on Tuesday night but did not make the bench – the striker shortage is starting to ease.

Grayson hopes that it will not be long before he can call on Callum Robinson’s services to add to his options up front.

The 20-year-old rejoined the club for the rest of the season from Aston Villa on transfer deadline day.

Robinson is recovering from a hamstring strain he picked up in training at Villa.

Said Grayson: “Callum is going to be about 10 days.

“We wanted to get it done before anyone else had a chance to nick him.

“There were a couple of Championship clubs who came in for him before the deadline.

“Villa were pleased to send him back to us and we were obviously pleased to sign him again because he did well here.

“It was something we had been looking to do for quite a while and eventually we got the green light to do it.”

Today is the 43rd anniversary of North End’s last competitive meeting with Manchester United.

They met in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Deepdale on February 5, 1972, United winning 2-0 in front of a 37,052 crowd.

Both goals were scored by Alan Gowling – one of four United players that day who went on to play for Preston in later years.