Dave Seddon's PNE press view
Not only did Jermaine Beckford's return to action give a big boost to Preston North End fans and players alike, it instantly put a halt to Simon Grayson's weekly press conference turning into Groundhog Day.
Every Thursday morning at Springfields, the PNE manager meets the local media to look ahead to the next game.
The first set of questions tend to be about injuries and availability, with an enquiry about Beckford’s well-being always thrown in.
Grayson would answer with a ‘making progress’ comment and a smile in an attempt to take the pressure off the striker’s recovery.
A week ago, he was at long last able to write Beckford’s name among the substitutes on the team-sheet.
“You will have to find something else to ask now,” was Grayson’s mischievous comment to me this week.
Don’t worry, questions on the progress of Chris Humphrey, Liam Grimshaw and Stevie May are up the sleeve and coming to a press conference near you!
Seriously though, what a boost to have Beckford back, even if it has to be a slowly-but-surely return.
When we celebrated that glorious hat-trick at Wembley last May, who would have envisaged him only making three substitute appearances in competitive games since?
I doubt anyone in the crowd at Livingston’s ground on the July night he picked up the injury in the friendly against Motherwell, even noticed him getting hurt.
Yes, he came off during the second half but so too did a good number of the players who had started that evening.
Every credit then to the rest of the PNE squad, Grayson and his staff, that North End sit in 10th place over Easter and have been as high as ninth.
Beckford scored 18 goals last season, 15 of those in the final 18 games.
Take that out of any team and it has the potential to hit them hard.
Without Beckford, North End have found a way to win and consistently collect points.
How would they have fared had his shooting boots been available? It is a theoretical question of course but an interesting one all the same.
Would PNE still have been as solid at the back, knowing they had Beckford’s pace and threat up top?
Had he been available, would it have got more out of Joe Garner, in a goals sense?
Now is the time to look ahead and over the next few weeks, for Beckford to regain his full match sharpness.
It will probably be next season, with a full pre-season under his belt, when we see him back to where he was before the injury.
But Beckford can still play a decent part in the remaining eight games and he provides another attacking option.
After the Nottingham Forest defeat earlier in the month, options up top looked a bit thin on the ground with Garner landing a two-match suspension.
Since then, Jordan Hugill has netted his first league goal and Eoin Doyle has found the net twice.
With Garner now free from suspension, Beckford back and Doyle in a bit of form, it poses the question of who starts at Blackburn?
On the subject of the derby against Rovers, every credit to PNE supporters for selling out the away end.
To shift 7,000 tickets in three weeks, with Gentry Day at Bolton happening in that period, takes some doing.
It is a big percentage of the average home support which will be making the trip east.
The QPR game drew an attendance of 11,322, with 675 of those being visiting fans
So 10,647 North End supporters were in the ground, presuming every season ticket holder turned up.
To have a 7,000 away following in the next game is impressive.
There will have been a fortnight’s gap between matches by then due to the international break.
If it seems strange having no games over Easter, it is because it has not happened before.
Talking to PNE’s official historian Ian Rigby, he cannot find an Easter when Preston have not played.
It was not too long ago that three games were played over Easter – Good Friday, Saturday and Monday.
Hopefully this is a one-off, Easter falling early this year means it coincides with the scheduled March international break
To end on a sad note, football lost a true legend this week with the passing of Johan Cruyff.
The fact that the ‘Cruyff turn’ is still in our football vocabulary nearly 42 years on from it happening, speaks volumes for the man.