Stand-in skipper Joel Byrom admits competition for places is fierce in the Preston North End engine room.
The midfielder, who arrived at the club in the summer from Stevenage, came in for his first start since November 6 on Saturday as PNE battled to a goalless draw against Portsmouth at Fratton Park.
After the hugely-disappointing 3-1 home defeat against Crewe Alexandra the previous week, PNE boss Graham Westley made several changes for the match against Pompey.
Out went Nicky Wroe, John Mousinho and John Welsh in midfield and, in their places, came Byrom, Andy Procter and David Buchanan.
Byrom, who originally hails from Oswaldtwistle, was also handed the captain’s armband in the absence of Mousinho and he is eager to retain his place in the side for tonight’s trip to Bury in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy regional quarter-final tie at Gigg Lane.
Byrom said: “The competition in midfield is strong – there are a lot of players fighting for two or three places.
“That is healthy and good to have.
“Myself and Andy Procter got the shirts on Saturday and hopefully we can keep hold of them.
“But there are five or six players who can play in there in the squad.”
Although promotion from League One back to the Championship is North End’s number one aim this season, Byrom revealed the PNE players are taking the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy very seriously.
They would love to reach the final at Wembley and know that victory over Bury tonight will see them go into the northern semi-final against Coventry City at the Ricoh Arena, which is scheduled for Thursday, January 10.
He added: “The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is a competition we want to win.
“Bury stand in our way and we need to get past them.
“It was a long trip back from Portsmouth but we’ve recovered properly to go again tonight.”
This eveninng’s fixture is the start of a busy festive period for North End and Byrom revealed he relishes this time of the year. He also believes the squad has the necessary quality and depth to cope with the extra demands of the Christmas programme.
He said: “Tonight’s game is part of a busy period of games for us.
“Christmas is always a busy time but an enjoyable one too. We have a squad here of 24 or 25 players who are all capable of playing in the starting XI when called upon.
“Injuries and suspensions will be picked up and we have a squad who can cover them.”
Meanwhile, Westley said it was an easy decision to hand Byrom the captaincy on Saturday.
The ex-Clitheroe player skippered the team in the behind-closed-doors friendly win over Stoke City last week, and Westley pointed to Byrom’s reliability as the reason why he was the obvious choice to take over from Mousinho.
Westley said: “Joel is a very dependable character. He’s a reliable person and player. He’s had a couple of knocks, which have meant that his season has been a bit stop-start.
“He had the hamstring injury earlier in the season which held him back.
“But he’s a strong character. He captained the side against Stoke and did that job very well.
“It made a lot of sense for him to carry on and wear the armband at the weekend against Portsmouth.”
Westley also believes Byrom has the necessary steeliness in his play to help guide North End back to form after the mini-slump which they have endured in recent weeks.
A solid victory over Gillingham in the FA Cup at Deepdale is the only bright moment of the past six games.
In that time, they have picked up just three league points out of an available 15.
Westley said: “Joel is another player who is a multi-tasker in the sense that he can play in more than one position.
“He can do a job at full-back or he can play in the middle of the park. Wherever you ask him to play or whatever job you give him, he will go out and do it well.
“He’s a very technical player, but he will put his foot in as well – he will win his tackles.
“I was talking to somebody at the weekend who was talking about something which Sir Alex Ferguson had once said.
“Sir Alex had made a comment that you win nothing with soft lads. I agree with that.
“You need whole-hearted players to be successful and Joel Byrom is certainly one of them.”