Preston North End defender Bailey Wright is on course to hit full fitness over Christmas and make a return to the Lilywhites first-team squad.
The 22-year-old had surgery in October to repair torn muscles in both groins.
Wright travelled with the PNE squad to Peterborough on Saturday, doing a training session with fitness coach Tom Little before the game.
Yesterday, he played in a practice game at Springfields – his first slice of match action since early October.
North End manager Simon Grayson told the Evening Post: “It was Bailey’s first taste of football action for quite a while in terms of 11 v 11.
“I don’t think he is far away from returning to the squad now, he could be available for Boxing Day.
“Bailey has worked hard with the physio, done his conditioning work and now he needs some game time.
“It was nice to take him away with us to Peterborough, get him back involved.
“He got some training done before the game.”
Wright had been troubled with the groin injuries since going to the World Cup with Australia.
He played 10 games in the early weeks of the season but was clearly not fully fit.
In October, Wright was given an extended spell of rest to see if the groin tears would heal that way.
However, when that failed to cure the problem, he went under the knife to repair the torn muscles and release some scar tissue.
During his time recovering from surgery, Wright was named in Australia’s 46-man provisional squad for the Asia Cup in January. That pool was reduced to 23 last night and not surprisingly, Wright missed the cut due to his lack of action recently.
Yesterday’s practice game featured the players who were not in the starting XI against Peterborough, together with some of the youth team and a couple of trial players.
Said Grayson: “It was an inter-squad game, the chance for a lot of the lads to get 90 minutes under their belt.
“We had a mixture of the lads who didn’t start or play at the weekend, one or two trialists and some of the youth team lads.
“It was a proper match, a good opportunity to get some game time into them ready for if they are called on for Boxing Day and next Sunday’s game.
“Also, it gave us the chance to have a look at some of the youth team in there with the first-team lads, with regards contracts for next season.
“At this time of year it is hard to arrange friendlies against other clubs, so the best thing was to have a match within the squad.”
With Wright back in the frame and David Buchanan likely to have recovered from a tight hamstring, the PNE injury list has shortened of late.
The two long-term casualties are strikers Joe Garner and Jordan Hugill.
Garner had an operation last month to repair a detached knee tendon.
When he was injured against Bristol City, the timescale of his recovery was put at three to four months.
Hugill is back running after having micro-fracturing surgery on a torn knee cartilage. He hopes to return to full training in January.