Calum Woods could not have asked for a sterner test of his fitness after returning from injury for Preston North End’s derby clash with Burnley.
The right-back had missed three games after pulling a calf muscle against Fulham earlier in the month.
He was passed fit to play in Friday night’s televised clash with the Clarets, one which the East Lancashire visitors won 1-0 to return to the top of the table.
Having to keep pace with Burnley’s lively front four, first as a wing-back and then in a flat back four, meant a demanding shift for Woods.
It was one he came through without suffering any reaction to the injury, and he was still going in the 95th minute – supplying a cross from which Callum Robinson missed the target by a matter of inches.
Woods told the Evening Post: “I had a little bit of a problem with my calf, I had to come off quite early on in the Fulham game a couple of weeks ago.
“Burnley was a tough game to come back into and in the last 20 minutes I was breathing a bit heavily.
“I kept going until the end, which was a positive sign for my fitness.
“It was only last Tuesday that I got back to training, doing a little session.
“On Wednesday and Thursday I was back with the lads doing full sessions.
“The Birmingham game last week was too early for me but I felt fine to play against Burnley.
“I enjoyed being back in the team and hopefully I can play in the last two games against Reading and Leeds.
“I’ve had a good run of games this season and when I get the chance to play every week, that is when you see the best of me.
“This season I’ve had the best run of matches since my first year at Huddersfield.
“That season I featured a lot and, while I didn’t play quite as often the year after, I did get some experience of the Championship under my belt.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of this season and it has flown by.
“I cannot believe that we only have two games left – it only seems five minutes since we started in August.
“We have done well in our first season up and we want to finish well in the games against Reading and Leeds.
“These last few matches, we have done better than perhaps the results would suggest.
“That is how it sometimes goes – there can be spells when you don’t play too well but still pick up points.
“Recently I don’t think our performances have been too bad at all yet we haven’t won for five games.”
Woods was needed on Friday night with Marnick Vermijl having failed a late fitness test on a foot injury.
For the first half-hour, North End played a 3-5-2 with Woods in the right wing-back role.
Usually comfortable when playing that system, Simon Grayson’s men found themselves opened up by Burnley’s attack.
The visitors’ pace saw them exploit the space behind the Preston wing-backs.
A change to 4-4-2 put a stop to that and saw North End get more of a foothold in the contest.
Said Woods: “I thought we started the game really well and Jermaine Beckford had an early chance.
“Burnley’s goal came out of nowhere really, we were so unlucky that the free-kick got the deflection in the wall.
“They got on top after the goal and caused us plenty of problems, they were closing us down really quickly.
“We had started off with wing-backs but we found it hard to get on the ball and create space.
“When we went to 4-4-2, the game opened up a bit and we finished the first half quite strongly.
“For parts of the second half I thought we were the better team.
“That said, Burnley showed why they are top of the Championship.
“They pressed us and worked really hard – they had some very good players.
“But I thought we were good too and towards the end, Burnley were hanging on a bit.
“Late on, we had chances but unfortunately those just didn’t go in.
“A couple of weeks ago we played Middlesbrough who are up there with Burnley, giving them a good game too.
“We can learn off those two teams for next season.
“They both have very good movement going forward.
“On Friday, you saw why Andre Gray is a good player with his pace and play.
“Their front four move well but that said, they only scored once and that was a deflected free-kick.”
Woods, a Bosman signing from Huddersfield two years ago, has played 33 times this season.
He has competed with Vermijl for the right-back/wing-back roles, while earlier in the season, the 29-year-old Scouser had a stint in the centre of defence.
With him also having played at left-back last term, including in the Wembley play-off final, his versatility makes Woods a good player to have in the squad.
Meanwhile, North End’s stand-in goalkeeper Chris Kirkland felt luck deserted them in the Burnley game.
Kirkland deputised for Anders Lindegaard, who hurt his shoulder at Birmingham.
The one-cap England keeper was beaten by Joey Barton’s free-kick, one which took a big deflection off Alan Browne in the wall.
Kirkland said: “It was a sucker-punch to concede early on but I thought the lads responded really well. But credit to Burnley, they’re a very good side.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play in some big games and that was up there in terms of atmosphere.
“The fact that it was on a Friday night added to it I think and it was great to play in this Lancashire derby.
“The lads deserve to end the season on a high with how they’ve played but you can’t take anything for granted in this league.
“You’ve got to work and you have to work hard and we have to continue that to the end of the season.”
Kirkland could well be needed again this weekend when North End head to the Madjeski Stadium to take on Reading.
Lindegaard’s damaged shoulder will continue to be assessed this week but the trip to Berkshire could come too early for the Dane, who is on loan from West Bromwich Albion.