Ben Pearson’s importance to this Preston North End side was underlined on Wednesday night.
With a catalogue of captains out, Paul Huntington the latest after picking up his fifth booking against Brentford, Alex Neil had a decision to make about who to give the armband to as Aston Villa came to town in front of the Sky cameras.
Having emphasised just how important he thinks the Manchester United youngster is to his style of play, the PNE boss went for Pearson as his skipper on the night.
It wasn’t his or North End’s best performance by any stretch, a sloppy pass back to Andy Boyle setting off Albert Adomah to feed Robert Snodgrass for Villa’s second in their 2-0 win.
But at the completion of his third full 90 minutes since his return from a torn thigh, Pearson has now gone 336 minutes since his last booking.
In addition to the hour he played against Fulham on his comeback on October 14, the midfielder hasn’t got on the wrong side of a referee since his frustrating six weeks on the sidelines.
Prior to that he was shown a yellow card in each of the four games he played at the start of the season, two at Leeds seeing him pick up a first red card of his career, a surprise to many given his liking for a card.
After 16 bookings and six games suspended last season Pearson himself has admitted that being given his marching orders at Elland Road with half an hour to play might be a watershed moment.
The lack of cards since his enforced absence would certainly back that up, something that was surely in Neil’s mind when he decided to make him captain on Wednesday night.
The armband is likely to be handed back to Huntington at Ipswich on Saturday, his return a welcome one to an injury-hit defence missing several key components.
The big Cumbrian is third in minutes played for PNE this season with 1,260 and has grown into his leadership role with club captain Tom Clarke and nominated stand-in skipper Greg Cunningham long-term absentees.
The men second and fourth in that list could be next for a match out with Jordan Hugill, 1,337, and Daniel Johnson, 1,199, both one booking away from a suspension on four yellows with the amnesty for five not until the end of November.
All in all PNE still top the FA’s disciplinary standings for the Championship with 35 bookings and two red cards, Alan Browne having also been sent off at Wolves, from their 16 games in league and cup.
With thanks to Martin Atherton for the stats.