‘Trojan’ - Huge Ched Evans boost for Preston North End ahead of Millwall
Preston North End striker Ched Evans will return to the match day squad for Saturday’s match against Millwall, says manager Ryan Lowe.
The 34-year-old has been sidelined since the back end of last season, when he developed a serious medical condition relating to his neck and spine. His future as a footballer was in real doubt, but Evans underwent successful surgery over the summer and had been waiting to get the green light to take part in contact training.
Evans visited the specialist last week and received the positive news, with PNE’s number nine now set to be involved against the Lions. Evans scored nine goals in 26 league appearances for Preston last season and was the club’s top scorer. He has stayed in and around the squad this campaign and training has been tailored to include him at times, but the road to recovery is now almost over.
“The biggest news and what everyone is probably waiting for is that Ched Evans will be back in the squad on Saturday, so I’m absolutely over the moon for him, his family and for us as a football club,” said Lowe, in his pre-match press conference on Thursday morning. “It was a bit emotional when we got the news; I actually rang him and started singing his name down the phone. They have been through a lot, but he’s been training like a trojan in the last few days. I’m really pleased for him and it’s a big bonus for us. He’s a fantastic character around the lads, a leader and that’s what we’ve obviously wanted him to do for us. We’ve missed him. But, he is back in the fold and has been with the lads. When you’ve got someone like Ched Evans available, it is a big, big plus.”
Lowe did admit that, when the news regarding Evans’ severe spinal and neck issue first surfaced back in April, he did not expect the striker to take to the field again.
“No,” said Lowe, when asked if he thought all parties would get to this point. “It was tough at the time, but fair play to Jacko, the physios and the fitness staff. They have got him to a level where he’s now back and looking 100 per cent. He saw a couple of surgeons and one said something along the lines of: ‘I am surprised you’re sitting in front of me in a chair and not a wheelchair’ - which was hard for him, his wife and us as well, because we had to get that news. To get a second opinion, third opinion and then see a specialist for those type of operations was massive for him, the family and us. He had a bit of a setback not long ago, where the bone hadn’t grown. But, he was walking and running which was a big plus, and once we got the news that it had grown a bit more then he could join in full contact. And he’s had that, so we’re all delighted for him and over the moon that he’s available for selection.”
Millwall at home certainly seems a fitting match to potentially mark Evans’ return to match action. The Lions always provide a tough test and relish the battle, but there is no doubt in Lowe’s mind that Evans will bring all of that to the party still - even if the number nine has altered a few things within his own game.
“Yeah, it is an ideal fixture,” said Lowe. “That is the way Ched is, but what I will say is that his running style has changed. He’s a little bit faster, lost a lot of weight but is more toned and strong. He’s more nippy; his head used to be down but he is running a lot straighter. I always say things happen for a reason and this situation with Ched, he’s known he had some sort of injury like that for many years. But, he has probably not wanted to really deal with it and now he’s gotten to the bottom of it, it’s been done in such a way that he can progress and keep working hard.
“To give him that extra little yard and be that bit sharper in and around, I think we’ll see a different Ched Evans. He’s still going for that ball (when it goes up) - he’s been doing that anyway and you’re there, wincing a bit every time. But no, he’s headed a few balls, is in work with a smile on his face, goes out there and trains like a trojan every day. He is really champing at the bit.”
Lowe also thinks the fact Evans is ready to be thrust into the fold, so soon after getting good news from the specialist, is testament to the work done by everyone at PNE over the past six months.
“It speaks volumes for my staff - the physios, the masseurs, fitness coaches - because we’ve had to design sessions around him,” said Lowe. “The fitness team have got him to a level where he’s game ready, without having any game time. We were going to play him in the reserve game on Tuesday, but it was too soon and we just felt we’d keep him for the weekend. All the staff, even the chefs with the food he’s had to take and protein he’s needed, everything about it. They’ve all gone above and beyond for him, as they’d do with any player in Ched’s circumstances, to help him get to where he’s got to today. I think all the staff need a pat on the back, as well as Ched for all the work he has put in. All the hard work can hopefully pay off; he will be in the squad on Saturday and if the time is right, he may get on the pitch.”