Jermaine Beckford is edging closer to his first start for Preston North End since knee surgery according to Lilywhites boss Simon Grayson.
The striker has made three substitute appearances in what has been a carefully managed return to action.
Coupled with longer runs in three bounce games before and during the recent international break, his match sharpness is steadily returning.
Beckford played cameo roles in the final few minutes of the matches against Queens Park Rangers and Blackburn.
On Tuesday night, he came on in the 67th minute of the defeat to Fulham – a lengthy spell of stoppage-time meant he was on the pitch for nearly half-an-hour.
Grayson said: “Bringing him on with about 20 minutes or so left, like we did in midweek, is about right for where he is at.
“Against Blackburn last week, we put him on for his pace to try and run over the top of their defence.
“He got through right at the end and put a chance just wide of the far post.
“In the Fulham game, we thought it was the right time, bearing in mind how the game was going – and with where his fitness levels are at – to bring Jermaine on.
“His fitness levels keep on improving with the training he does and with these substitute appearances.
“Somewhere down the line, he will start a game.”
Whether that chance comes today against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium, remains to be seen. There could be a vacancy up front with Jordan Hugill having suffered a knock on the ankle against Fulham.
Hugill will be desperate to play – he is a boyhood Boro fan and scored his first PNE goal in last season’s Capital One Cup tie against the Teessiders.
If he fails to recover, Eoin Doyle and Callum Robinson are also in the frame.
Grayson has started with Hugill for the last four games.
Hugill getting the nod against Blackburn a week ago, a game in which he scored the winner, was down to his manager’s ‘gut feeling’.
Said Grayson: “There have been times in my career when I’ve had the team in mind and then on paper the day before.
“Then overnight I have got a feeling to change it.
“Jordan was a late decision last week – Eoin Doyle had done well in the two games before that.
“But I felt Jordan might give us something different and that gut feeling worked.”
Meanwhile, talks are continuing with Josh Brownhill over a new contract – his current deal runs out in the summer. The midfielder is on loan at Barnsley for the rest of the season but he has been offered new terms by PNE.
Said Grayson: “Peter Ridsdale is on with that, talking with Josh’s representatives.
“I’m sure there will be something to report in the next week to 10 days.
“He is young and we would get compensation if he chose to leave the club.”