PNE players face a fight for first-team spot

Bailey Wright
Bailey Wright
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Simon Grayson thinks the Preston squad is currently in the best shape it has been for a few months.

At the moment, Joe Garner and Jordan Hugill are the only two long-term casualties, with everyone else available for selection.

The depth of the squad will be key in the next week as PNE face three important games, starting with today’s FA Cup clash with Norwich at Deepdale.

It is followed by the home leg of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy northern area final against Walsall on Wednesday night.

Then a week today, North End travel to Bramall Lane to take on Sheffield United in a vital league game.

PNE boss Grayson added Sylvan Ebanks-Blake to the squad on New Year’s Day, increasing his attacking options.

It is likely that Ebanks-Blake will feature in the squad this afternoon.

As January progresses, there is likely to be more incoming activity with further firepower on the wish list.

Grayson told the Evening Post: “It is great from my point of view that we have almost everyone available.

“You look at Will Hayhurst and David Buchanan who were both on the bench against Barnsley on Boxing Day but then could not get into the 18 at Crewe two days later.

“That shows how healthy the competition is for places.

“Bailey Wright was back on the bench at Crewe for the first time after his operation.

“He could find it hard to get back into the team given the performances of other players in the last few months.

“It is important I have these options and it makes the lads compete so hard in training.

“I have some decisions to make over the next few days when we have the games in the FA Cup, JPT and league.

“If I pick the same team for all three, so be it, but I also have the option to keep things fresh.”

The depth of the squad has allowed Grayson to send two of the club’s younger players out on loan again.

Striker Jack Ryan has joined Stockport for the second time this season and scored in their 2-1 win at Colwyn Bay on New Year’s Day.

Fellow first-year pro Nick Anderton has also gone to play Conference North football, signing on loan for Barrow.

Ebanks-Blake’s addition to the squad on a contract until the end of the season, gives Preston another body up front.

His five weeks training with the club while on trial saw his fitness levels improve greatly,

He was put on a specialised training programme to bolster his sharpness, the feeling the benefit of it.

Said Ebanks-Blake: “I will be working hard to try and get into the team and then to stay in it.

“Working here over the last few weeks has been great, a programme was set up to assist me.

“It has been four or five weeks of intense work, with extra sessions after training and a match thrown in there.

“That work will continue to make sure I get as fit as I can.

“The fire is still burning in me to do well, I have come through a difficult period of injuries and set backs.”