Alex Neil was pleased to see Paul Huntington take his chance in Preston’s defence against West Bromwich after a long spell out of the team.
With Patrick Bauer and Ben Davies both injured, the experienced campaigner was given his first Championship start for nearly 11 months in Monday night’s 1-0 defeat to the Baggies.
He was in the starting XI against Swansea on January 12, before Jordan Storey and Davies took up residence at the heart of the defence.
Huntington made a brief substitute appearance in April’s 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday, while he started the League Cup clash with Hull in August.
The long-serving defender had, by Neil’s admission, been the victim of a tactical change and the form of others in recent months, But the North End boss praised the way 32-year-old Huntington had kept himself right for when he was needed.
Neil said: “Unfortunately for Hunts this season we have opened the pitch up and been more expansive. We’ve got our centre-backs on the ball.
“But you can always rely on what Hunts is, you put it on his head and he’ll head a breeze block. He is that type.
“He will head the ball some distance, he will get on the ball and turn it – he is a good old-fashioned centre-back.
“One thing I will say about him is that he is a top, top lad as well.
“No one is more pleased for him than me to see him back in the team.”
Neil has made sure that a regular schedule of bounce games are arranged to keep players sharp when they are not in the team.
They are generally fitted in when there is not a midweek league game, the latest one being a fortnight ago against Burnley. Said Neil: “We have got that side of things right in terms of getting enough game time for the lads to keep ticking over.
“They are good games, competitive, all the lads who haven’t been involved play in them, which means we put out strong teams.”
Bauer was ruled out after damaging some fibres in a quad muscle – the first league game he had missed since joining in the summer.
The German has had the injury scanned and his will not be a long absence.
Davies has been sidelined for the last two games since limping out of the 1-0 defeat at Derby with an ankle injury.
Again, Neil does not think it will be anything long term.
Andrew Hughes is closing in on a return from a fractured bone in his foot and Darnell Fisher’s fitness is being monitored.
Neil could have some of the walking wounded back in time for Saturday’s trip to QPR, or next Tuesday’s Deepdale clash with Fulham.