North End aiming to bolster defence before pre-season

Greg Cunningham battles with QPR's' Yeni Atito Ngbakoto (right) last season
Greg Cunningham battles with QPR's' Yeni Atito Ngbakoto (right) last season

Preston are looking to make inroads in their search for a new defender ahead of next week’s return to training.

Reinforcing the centre of defence is high up on North End’s list of priorities.

The absence of skipper Tom Clarke until early next year has left a big hole in the middle of the back four.

He tore an Achilles tendon in April and faces between eight and 10 months out.

It is understood that PNE have a few targets when it comes to finding a centre-half but are not as far down the line with a deal as they are with players in other positions.

The North End defence took a number of hits in the closing weeks of last season.

Three days after Clarke was injured, Greg Cunningham fractured his leg.

Both injuries came after Alex Baptiste has been hit with a three-match ban for a red card against Leeds.

Baptiste, now back with parent club Middlesbrough after his time on loan, is an option to return.

However, that would be in addition to a new centre-half.

As it stands, PNE have Paul Huntington, Andy Boyle and Ben Davies – back from a loan spell at Fleetwood – for the centre-back positions.

Cunningham and Tommy Spurr can both play there but are more at home in the left-back slot.

Should Kevin O’Connor complete his expected move from Cork City, he would give another option at left-back.

Marnick Vermijl and the fit-again Calum Woods, are the choices at right-back.

Cunningham will be fit to join in with pre-season training when the squad report back a week on Thursday.

While a cracked tibia was an unpleasant injury at the time, its timing just before the end of the season worked in the Irishman’s favour.

He suffered it playing in the Easter Monday clash with Norwich at Deepdale.

Said Cunningham: “In the grand scheme of things I only ended up missing three games.

“So if an injury can come at a good game time, then that was probably it.

“It’s given me enough time to recover over the summer and make sure I’m back level with the rest of the boys when we report back.”

This will be Cunningham’s third season in a North End shirt, having joined on a free transfer from Bristol City in July 2015.

He has been a consistent performer at left-back and hopes to help PNE push on in 2017/18.

“We’ve put the marker down in the last two seasons,” said Cunningham.

“We want to hit the ground running and get off to a better start that would put us in a good position – or give us an opportunity – to get closer to those play off places.”