Preston North End defender Bailey Wright is under no illusions how difficult it will be to regain his place in the Lilywhites back four on a regular basis.
The weekend’s FA Cup win over Norwich City was his first game for three months, groin surgery having kept him a frustrated spectator on the sidelines.
In his absence, Tom Clarke and Paul Huntington formed an effective partnership in the centre of defence.
While Clarke was rested for Norwich’s visit, the skipper will return for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy northern area final first leg against Walsall at Deepdale tonight.
So that could see Wright go back to the bench as PNE boss Simon Grayson rotates the Lilywhites squad.
Whatever team Grayson goes with to face Walsall, Wright is just relieved that his injury problems are at an end.
“The team has been doing ever so well and long may that continue,” Wright told the Evening Post.
“At the back, you look at Paul Huntington’s record since he came into the team.
“He has scored goals and helped keep a number of clean sheets.
“Standards are set high in training and then carried on to the pitch.
“I know that I’m not going to walk straight back into the side – it is up to me to work hard and be ready for when a chance comes.”
Wright, 22, returned to the squad over Christmas as an unused substitute in the 1-1 draw at Crewe.
His inclusion against Norwich was among five changes made to the side by Grayson with one eye fixed on tonight’s JPT tie. Said Wright: “It had been a while since I had been on the pitch – I think it was exactly three months.
“I enjoyed Saturday’s game and I felt the best I had done all season because I’d been carrying the injury earlier.
“Like any player, I used to get frustrated watching the matches rather than playing.
“You adopt a different role when you’re out – if there is a bad result and the boys come in with their heads down, you are there helping to try and pick them up.
“When there is a win, you are thinking how difficult it will be to get back into the team.
“Competition for places here is very healthy and that is what you need when the aim is promotion.”
The prize on offer to North End and Walsall over the two legs is a visit to Wembley on March 22 in the final of the JPT.
It is more than 20 years since PNE last played at the national stadium – that was in the 1994 Third Division play-off final against Wycombe.
Twice previously they have reached the area final stage of the JPT in its various sponsors’ guises.
In April 1988, they lost 3-1 on aggregate to Burnley.
The first leg at Turf Moor ended goalless before the Clarets won at Deepdale after extra time.
Three years later, PNE lost 4-0 in the first leg to Tranmere at Prenton Park, their 1-0 win in the home leg almost irrelevant.
Wright would be delighted if the club can make it third time lucky over the coming weeks.
He said: “It would be unbelievable if we could get there – every footballer wants to play at Wembley.
“But before we can even think of that, we have two tough games against Walsall.
“Last year we did well against them, doing the double but earlier this season they beat us down at their place.
“That was a bad day at the office for us. We didn’t play very well.
“After that defeat, I thought we pulled ourselves together and went on a good run, staying unbeaten for a while.
“We don’t like losing games but sometimes a defeat can give you a kick in the right direction and get you refocused.
“There will be different players involved in both teams to the game we lost down there in September.
“Our approach will be to try and win both games – that is always the mentality.”
Wright played in the Bescot Stadium defeat during a spell when he was trying to manage the groin problems which ultimately required surgery.
The groin injury – both muscles were torn – was very much wear and tear damage.
“Last season I played a lot of matches and then went straight to the Australia squad,” said Wright.
“I guess I pushed myself through it when I was away because I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to go to the World Cup.
“It took its toll in the end and the tears in my groin muscles were there for quite a while. They got to the point where rest was not going to heal them so I had the operation in October.”