Phil Brown is likely to have to name a new skipper for Preston North End’s clash with Swansea City at Deepdale tomorrow.
A knee ligament injury looks set to sideline Sean St Ledger, so Ian Ashbee – Brown’s captain at Hull – is favourite to wear the armband.
St Ledger took a knock to his medial ligament during training with the Republic of Ireland last week.
It forced him to sit out both of Ireland’s matches during the recent international break.
Brown hasn’t completely ruled him out of contention yet, with St Ledger a naturally-swift healer.
But the visit of the promotion-chasing Swans could just come too quickly.
South Africa international Bongani Khumalo will make his PNE debut in the centre of defence following last week’s loan switch from Tottenham for the rest of the season.
Brown said: “At the moment it’s looking likely that Sean will miss the Swansea game.
“But I won’t jump the gun and say he’s definitely out.
“Sean is notorious for recovering from injuries quickly – he can break down in training then the following day be the best trainer on the park.
“The physios might have written him off for Swansea, the lad himself might have half done so, but I won’t rule him out until someone categorically says he can’t play.
“But at the same time, I have covered all bases and given some thought to who the captain would be.”
Khumalo’s arrival from Spurs is a timely one, bearing in mind St Ledger’s injury.
Brown was looking anyway for more defensive cover, with Leon Cort still to return from a hamstring strain.
He said: “Bongani is a good lad and has trained like a proper footballer this week.
“We’ve sat him down and had a good talk about the situation we are in, and spoken about how he can help us.
“He’s come from a club in South Africa to Spurs for £1.5m in January, which was a fantastic move for him, and all of a sudden he’s found himself thrust into a relegation battle in the Championship.
“I’ve been impressed with him over the last few days, he’s an articulate guy and has demonstrated that in training and team meetings.
“That’s the kind of player I like, but we also need him to defend properly when it matters.”
Tomorrow’s match is the first of a nine-game run-in to the end of the season.
Winning seven of those would definitely keep North End up.
Six wins and a draw would take them to the 50-point mark, a total which should just be enough.
Swansea will be tough opponents, the South Wales outfit currently sitting third in the table behind Queens Park Rangers and Norwich – sides who PNE have drawn against in the past six weeks.
Said Brown: “We are facing a team at the right end of the division.
“Brendan Rodgers, make no mistake about it, has gone into Swansea and grabbed hold of it in terms of his philosophy of the game.
“They are a team playing with confidence, a team with a lot of pace, a team playing open, expansive football which is attractive to watch.
“One thing I ask the Preston fans to be tomorrow is patient.
“There will be long periods when Swansea have the ball.
“At the same time, we are going into the game on the back of successive victories.
“Our tails are up and confidence is high.
“The environment at the club at the moment is conducive to winning.
“Our youth team is unbeaten in 13 games, the reserves are top of their league and through to the final of the Lancashire Senior Cup.
“The foundations are in place now, and at first-team level we have secured ourselves back-to-back wins, which we need to build on.
“In terms of the table, we are in no different position to the day I arrived.
“But there is an optimism there now – we have a hope at the moment borne out of the fact we got ourselves back-to-back wins.
“I’ve been out and about to a couple of fans’ forums recently, and the positive vibe I’m getting from the supporters is fantastic.
“As a team we have to keep on bringingw our best game to the table, both defensively and attacking-wise.
“Our challenge is to finish 21st in the table.”