Skipper Tom Clarke closing in on Preston North End return

Defender Tom Clarke is nearing a return to full fitness
Defender Tom Clarke is nearing a return to full fitness

Club captain Tom Clarke is nearing a return to Preston’s squad after more than three months out with a knee injury.

The defender played an hour of a bounce game against Carlisle on Tuesday which was a big step forward in regaining full fitness.

Clarke, 31, limped off five minutes before half-time of the 3-1 win against Stoke City on August 21.

He has had a problem with a knee ligament and North End have been careful with his rehab after a similar injury kept him out last season.

PNE manager Alex Neil said: “Tom played in a bounce game we had in the week.

“He got 60 minutes under his belt so isn’t far away now from getting back.

“Tom is one who has been out for a long time, not like some of the others who have picked up knocks and niggles.”

Neil admitted it had crossed his mind whether to risk Clarke in some capacity against West Bromwich last Monday as injuries hit PNE hard in the full-back roles.

But mindful of the time he had been out, Neil thought better of it.

“I was asking Tom last weekend, who hadn’t had any minutes at that stage, about whether he could do a job?

“It’s always a concern though, when someone has been out for a while.

“The last thing you want to do is bring someone back before they are ready, and then they are for another three months.”

Clarke was among a long list of defenders ruled out of the West Bromwich game.

Patrick Bauer, Ben Davies, Andrew Hughes and Darnell Fisher were the others.

Neil is frustrated by the injuries picked up but points out they are not all recent.

“The recent results we have suffered has highlighted the volume of injuries,” he said. “But they are something we have coped with for most of the season.

“We lost Louis Moult early on, Tom Clarke has missed the majority of the season, as has Andrew Hughes.

“Arguably Hughesy was our player of the season last year so we’ve missed him.

“Moulty had just broken into the side when he did his cruciate ligament.

“The recent injuries have not been serious ones, they’ve been different types.

“Last season when this happened they kept players out for much longer.

“A lot of the guys at the moment are touch and go for this weekend, or for Tuesday night’s game or the one after that.

“The problem is that we have a lot of gamest over a short period of time.

“Some might only be out for a couple of weeks but in that time we could play four or five games. It is important we get players right for crucial times of the season.”