Chris Humphrey was given a big psychological boost in his recovery from injury when he was named on the bench for Preston’s final game of the season against Leeds.
The winger might not have got onto the Deepdale pitch but just being on the teamsheet again after seven months out was a major step in his comeback.
Humphrey last played at the beginning of October, a stress fracture of his right shin bone having kept him sidelined.
Although he has been back training with the PNE squad since last month, it was only late last week that he got the green light to start full contact sessions.
Once the Jamaica international got that permission, North End boss Simon Grayson felt it was the right time to give him a substitute role at the weekend.
Grayson said: “Chris was back training with us for 10 days or so.
“The other lads had to be careful with him because he was not allowed full contact.
“Last Thursday afternoon he went for a scan and after seeing the results, the surgeon gave me the all-clear to start full training.
“The timing wasn’t ideal with it being just before the last game of the season.
“It was a nice opportunity though, to give Chris a big psychological boost by putting him in and around the team.
“He did not get on to play a few minutes but just knowing he was back available will be important ahead of next season.
“We were without Chris for a lot of last season and we missed him.”
Humphrey started six games and came on as a substitute in seven others in the opening stages of the season.
His last appearance was at Sheffield Wednesday on October 3 when he came on as a 10th-minute substitute for Paddy McCarthy.
During the international break which followed that game, he went for a scan after complaining of discomfort in his leg for some weeks.
He was found to have a stress fracture and two months of rest was prescribed in the hope it would heal naturally.
Unfortunately, that failed to do the trick and Humphrey had surgery in January, the operation seeing a metal plate inserted into his shin to help the bone mend.
In a recent interview, the 28-year-old was philosophical about his lengthy absence.
“It has been a long road but things happen for a reason,” said Humphrey.
“I didn’t want to be out for as long as I have been out but it was time to have a rest and recharge the batteries.
“I have had a chance to work on things that I felt needed improving in terms of fitness.
“I’ve worked on my stamina – it has been a chance to work on my hamstrings.
“I have worked on things to try and stop me getting little injuries when I’m back.
“It was important to work on my hamstrings because of the sprints I do.”
Humphrey will keep ticking over during the summer ahead of the return to pre-season training on June 30.
PNE’s other long-term casualties, Liam Grimshaw and Stevie May, have work to do over the summer.
Midfielder Grimshaw will be ready to start pre-season training after the knee operation which has prevented him making his debut since January’s move from Manchester United.