Tom Clarke could not have timed his recovery from injury better as he prepares to return to the Preston North End starting XI at Fulham this weekend.
The PNE skipper played the second half of the derby defeat to Blackburn at Deepdale last Saturday after being sidelined for five weeks.
A shoulder injury sustained against Cardiff kept him out, one which Clarke initially feared would mean a longer spell on the sidelines.
With Bailey Wright missing the Fulham trip because of suspension and an injury doubt over Calum Woods, Clarke looks a certain starter at Craven Cottage.
Clarke told the Evening Post: “It was good to test the shoulder out in what was quite a physical game against Blackburn. Taking throw-ins and going in for challenges gave it a decent work out.
“Last week, I played in a couple of bounce games in training which went well but there is no better test than being out on the pitch in a competitive match.”
The shoulder problem was a painful legacy of a collision in the second half of the 0-0 draw with Cardiff on October 17.
“I went to defend a free-kick in our box and one of their players, Sean Morrison, trapped my arm and it pushed right back.
“Right away I knew there was something wrong.
“I actually only came off the pitch at the time because I had got a bang on the head and needed stitches.
“But when I went back on, I went in for a challenge and felt it go again.
“It ended up being a tear at the back of the shoulder, while there was an old tear in there as well.
“Fortunately it didn’t need surgery because of the position of the injury.
“It was a case of cracking on with the rehab straight away and that was the best news I could have hoped for.
“When I first did it, I was fearful of what the outcome was going to be – I could have been out for much longer.
“I haven’t had many injuries since I’ve been here so it felt strange to be out.”
Clarke, 27, played at right-back after coming on against Rovers, replacing Woods who had a hamstring niggle.
It will be in the middle of the defence where he is needed as Wright’s replacement at Fulham.
The FA have confirmed a two-match ban for Wright after his red card against Blackburn – the additional game due to this being his second sending off.
Said Clarke: “We have two big away games coming up in Fulham and then Burnley the week after.
“Playing in games like that is why we worked so to get to the Championship.
“We put together a good run of results recently and after that ended against Blackburn, we now want to get on another.
“If we stick together and work hard, results will come again and I’m sure we will start to climb the table.”