Game-time for defenders is key for Preston North End

Preston skipper Tom Clarke
Preston skipper Tom Clarke

Preston manager Alex Neil says more game- time for Greg Cunningham and Tom Clarke was a big part of the FA Cup win at Wycombe.

Cunningham played his second game since returning from a four-month absence with a detached hamstring.

For skipper Clarke, it was his seventh start after coming back from a ruptured Achilles tendon.

But he got the chance to play at centre-half after the majority of football over the last few weeks had come as a right-back.

To have got both Clarke and Cunningham back in recent weeks is a big boost for Neil as he plots a course towards the top six over the coming weeks.

Neil said: “Greg coming through 90 minutes against Wycombe was perfect for us.

“The quality he showed for the cross for the fifth goal was excellent, it’s great to have him back with us.

“Tom Clarke got another 90 minutes under his belt which was great.

“I played him at centre-back, which meant I could rest others.”

It might be that he returns to the right-back slot against Millwall this weekend.

Five of his starts since the injury have come there, Paul Huntington and Ben Davies having been strong together in the middle.

Against Wycombe, Davies was rested and Calum Woods played at right-back with Clarke moving over.

But Woods pulled up with a hamstring strain during the second half.

Said Neil: “Calum getting an injury was disappointing – it is devastating for him.

“He had worked really hard to get fit but he hasn’t been able to get a consistent run.”

Woods has played 12 games this season, having missed all of last term with a serious knee injury.

Neil likes the versatility he offers, with Woods having played in both full-back slots and at centre-half this season.

On the transfer front, North End have been linked with a move for Hartlepool’s teenage frontman Connor Simpson.

But reports that a deal is about to be struck are believed to be wide of the mark.

PNE have been in contact with Hartlepool about the striker and have a valuation of him.

The ball is now in the court of Pools who have to decide if to sell or try to hang on to the 17-year-old.

North End’s interest in Simpson, who is 6ft 5in, could be compared to when they signed Jordan Hugill in 2014.

They paid £25,000 to Port Vale for Hugill and developed him into the player he is now.

Simpson broke into the Pools side at the end of last season, while this term he has started two games and made seven appearances from the bench.