North End boosted as injured stars return

Callum Davidson and Richard Chaplow have given Preston North End a much-needed boost by proving their fitness ahead of Saturday's trip to Norwich.

The pair played in a full-scale practice match at Springfields this week and both came through unscathed.

Barring any last-minute hitches, the two are expected to go back into the squad at Carrow Road.

And long-time absentee Liam Chilvers could have an outside chance for East Anglia after he too looked in good shape through the 70-minute match.

"We will travel to Norwich with our biggest squad for a long time," manager Alan Irvine told the Evening Post.

"We must wait until they have all been checked out for a reaction today. But I'm hopeful the news will all be good."

Irvine's selection choices have been limited by a raft of injuries over the past six weeks.

Results have taken a nosedive with North End only winning two of their last nine league games.

But with Chaplow back in contention for the centre of midfield and Davidson almost certain to return at left-back, Irvine is hopeful things will start to look up.

Chilvers could add more competition in the middle of the back four where Irvine has been forced to tinker with things of late and bring in Wayne Brown from Hull.

And with striker Chris Brown having returned as a substitute for almost 20 minutes of the defeat by Southampton, he could find himself back in the starting line-up against his old club after playing only four times so far this season due to sciatica.

The news could not have come at a better time for Irvine after he angrily threatened to swing the axe following Saturday's woeful collapse against the Saints.

He now has far more options picking a side to face Norwich and changes look inevitable as Preston attempt to arrest a slide which has seen them drop from the play-off places into the

bottom half of the table.

The management and players had a summit meeting this week to talk about recent events and Irvine had hoped to stage a friendly with a North West club to make up for not having an reserve fixture.

"I tried just about everyone," he said. "I phoned Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Bolton, Wigan, Blackburn, Morecambe and Chester, but they all had games at reserve level.

"I might even have staged it at Deepdale to get some proper match practice, but we drew a blank.

"So we split the squad up and had an 11 v 11 game of our own. Everyone got 70 minutes at a good tempo.

"I'm not saying for a minute that it was Championship pace because you can never get that on the training ground. But it was still excellent.

"In the main, it was for the players who have been injured or the ones who haven't played recently.

"Some of the lads who had been injured felt a bit tired coming in the next day and a bit stiff, which is understandable.

"But they came through it and trained the following day at a good tempo, so I am hoping they will all be okay."

There is no doubt North End have missed Davidson, Chaplow, and Brown in recent weeks. With back-up full-back Michael Hart also sidelined for the last seven games Jay McEveley was drafted in on loan from Derby to plug the gap.

But he was returned this week after his month expired, suggesting Davidson is now ready to return after a six-week absence.

Chaplow, injured at Coventry in mid-September, tried to come back at Burnley two weeks later but suffered a recurrence and has missed the last seven matches.

In his absence Darren Carter, Barry Nicholson and Billy Jones have all tried to fill the gap alongside skipper Paul McKenna.

But Irvine would prefer to have Chaplow in the engine room.

Up front Brown, one of the heroes of last season's great escape, has been sorely missed – he has managed only 18 minutes as a sub in the last month.

Chilvers, out since March with a ruptured Achilles tendon, has played a handful of reserve games but his rehabilitation has been interrupted by a niggling hamstring problem.

With Wayne Brown now at the club and Irvine set to choose between Sean St Ledger and Youl Mawene to partner him at Carrow Road, Chilvers might have to be content with a place on the bench at best.

Hart and centre-half Neal Trotman are the only players still not joining in full training, meaning Irvine now has almost a full squad to select from for the first time since the start of the season.

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