Jermaine's the main man for PNE
Simon Grayson says seeing Jermaine Beckford back in a Preston North End shirt in recent weeks has been very encouraging.
The striker has started two games and been a substitute in five others as part of a gradual return from knee surgery.
For the first time this season against Burnley on Friday night, Beckford paired up with Joe Garner from the start – renewing a strike partnership which was so lethal in last term’s promotion campaign.
PNE manager Grayson told the Evening Post: “Friday night was the first time Jermaine had played 90 minutes, so that was a big step forward for him.
“It was the first time he and Joe Garner had started a game together this season.
“When you look at it like that, it is frustrating that we had not been able to play as a partnership for such a long time.
“For Jermaine to have played the whole game against Burnley will have benefited him.
“He was tired afterwards but going into the last two games of the season, it will be good for him both mentally and physically.
“Jermaine is getting sharper and we will get more from him as he builds up his playing time on the pitch.
“He was a massive player for us last season and it is just nice to finally have him back.
“These last two games are big ones for him and us – Jermaine can get more game-time and we want to get more points on the board.”
Beckford’s last 90-minute run-out came in the second leg of the play-off semi-final against Chesterfield last May.
In the final at Wembley, he gave way to Kevin Davies after scoring a hat-trick.
Beckford had surgery in September, having initially felt discomfort in his knee during pre-season training.
He returned to action last month against Queens Park Rangers and has steadily built up his time on the pitch.
North End’s remaining games this season are at Reading on Saturday, followed by Leeds’ visit to Deepdale on May 7.
The Leeds match will be a big one for Beckford – he scored 85 goals for them in a five-year stay earlier in his career.
Grayson is targeting a return to winning ways in the last two games, PNE without a victory since beating Blackburn at the start of the month.
But in no way is he putting the five-game win-less run down to a lack of effort.
“We haven’t downed tools, we haven’t got the flip-flops on or anything like that,” said Grayson.
“You ask Sean Dyche and his Burnley players, on Friday they knew they had been in a tough game – you ask Aitor Karanka and Middlesbrough, we gave them a hard time the other week.
“The players are still giving everything.
“One or two are looking a bit leggy after a long season but we will be going into the final two games looking to get back to winning ways.”