Connolly set for PNE return

Paul Connolly
Paul Connolly
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Loanee Paul Connolly is the likely beneficiary of Keith Keane’s suspension when Preston North End visit MK Dons this weekend.

Keane starts a two-match ban on Saturday after collecting his 10th yellow card of the campaign in last week’s draw at Swindon.

So Connolly’s return to training after injury looks a timely one.

The 29-year-old defender joined North End last month on loan from Leeds for the rest of the season. He has made four appearances in PNE colours but suffered a hamstring strain in Graham Westley’s final match in charge at Yeovil 16 days ago.

Connolly is well known to new North End boss Simon Grayson.

It was Grayson who took him to Leeds from Derby in June 2010 on a Bosman.

The PNE right-back slot has not seen much stability in recent months.

A knee injury suffered by Keane in November led to much chopping and changing, as Grayson’s predecessor Westley searched for a replacement.

Bailey Wright, Todd Kane, Jack King and John Mousinho were all played at right-back before Connolly arrived in the final few days of the January transfer window.

Keane returned from knee surgery to play a cameo role as a late substitute at Yeovil, before starting the Bournemouth and Swindon games.

But he was always walking a disciplinary tightrope having been booked nine times before his injury. North End have three other players edging towards the 10-booking mark.

John Welsh and Jeffrey Monakana are both on eight yellows, with Paul Huntington having been cautioned seven times.

Saturday’s trip to MK Dons has added significance in light of results elsewhere on Tuesday night, when PNE were without a game.

Four sides below them in the table – Scunthorpe, Colchester, Bury and Hartlepool – all won.

It has cut the gap between Preston and the relegation zone to four points, although Grayson’s men have a vastly superior goal difference and games in hand on those below.

On a more positive note, the three clubs directly above them in the table all lost.

The clear midweek did allow Grayson to run the rule over some of the players who were not in the starting XI for his first game in charge at Swindon.

A behind-closed-doors game at Sheffield Wednesday which ended in a 1-1 draw, saw run-outs for a number of first-team squad players including Joe Garner – who netted PNE’s goal – Monakana, Chris Robertson, Luke Foster and Mousinho.

Meanwhile, Jack King says his long-term aim is to play regularly in the centre of midfield.

The 27-year-old joined North End from Woking as a midfielder last summer.

But he has been used in a variety of positions, partnering Stuart Beavon up front in the last two games.

King said: “Midfield is still my preferred option – that’s always been the case.

“But I’m happy to play anywhere down the middle of the pitch and make a good contribution to the team, whether that be at centre-half, in midfield or in attack.

“When you play as a target man up front, it’s a totally different game, with your back often being to goal.

“It’s something which is fairly new to me but hopefully people think I’m doing alright up there.

“This season I’ve had a few games at right-back too, although that is never going to be my position.

“It was a question of learning it as I went along and at times it was difficult.

“Apart from the Walsall game which was a bad one for both myself and the team, I think I’ve managed quite well.”