Keith Keane is on the comeback trail as he looks to give Preston North End a timely fitness boost.
The right-back returned to training this week after two-and-a-half months on the sidelines recovering from knee surgery.
Keane, 25, was hurt in November’s clash with Notts County, tearing the cartilage in his right knee.
Later in the same game Scott Laird broke his leg, the night a costly one from North End’s point of view.
In Keane’s absence, PNE have won only once in the league – they had recorded eight victories with the former Luton man in the side prior to then.
Several players tried to step into his right-back position without much success, before Paul Connolly was recruited on loan from Leeds last month to fill the void.
North End boss Graham Westley said: “We have to take things lightly with Keith at first because he’s been out for quite a while.
“But it will be nice to have him back because he played a big part in what we did earlier in the season.”
One of the players used at right-back during Keane’s absence was Bailey Wright, but the Australian is now establishing himself in the centre of defence.
The 20-year-old has skippered the side for the last two games when John Welsh was out injured and then on the bench.
It has been a steep rise for Wright, who only became a regular member of the first-team squad in the latter stages of last season, playing at left-back.
Being handed the armband for the last two games – and a couple of occasions earlier in the campaign – is something he is particularly proud of.
Said Wright: “It’s a great honour to captain Preston.
“This is my fourth season here, starting as a youth team lad and pushing on to where I am now.
“I’m so proud to lead the lads out – this is a huge club.
“It was only about this time last year that I began to feature in the squad and then started playing matches.
“Before then it had just been the odd game here and there, waiting for my chance to come.
“In the last two or three months of last season I began getting a consistent run of games, and I’ve managed to play a lot this year.
“I feel I have more to give and will be pushing myself to produce that.”
Whether Wright will skipper PNE at Colchester on Saturday is open to question.
Welsh proved his fitness after a thigh strain with a lively performance as a second-half substitute against Shrewsbury.
And if the midfielder starts this weekend, he will be favourite to wear the armband.
Meanwhile, Declan Rudd was back with the North End squad today after making his debut for England Under-21s on Tuesday night.
The goalkeeper, on loan from Norwich City, played the second half of England’s 4-0 win over Sweden at Walsall.
It is the fifth age group at which Rudd has represented England, having been capped at Under-16s, 17, 19 and 20 level.
Said Rudd: “It’s a huge honour to play for your country and this was another step to make.”