One of the many positives to come out of Preston’s victory over Wigan Athletic ahead of the international break was a first Championship goal of the season for Tom Barkhuizen.
With him having found the net too in the League Cup tie with Middlesbrough, North End manager Alex Neil will be looking for that gradual return to form to carry on in the weeks to come as PNE seek to climb the table.
Prior to the Wigan game, the winger’s last league goal had been in the 3-1 win at Bolton on Gentry Day.
The lack of goals since, and a dip in energy levels towards the end of last season, had led to some criticism coming Barkhuizen’s way.
Neil said: “Barky has come in for a bit of stick but that happens as a player – I have been there myself.
“It will come and go and sometimes when you aren’t playing well fans will get on your back.
“You have to have a bit of strength of character, get through it, show your value to the team.
“Barky’s running power is very important to us, it was something we highlighted a lot last season.
“Against Wigan he took his goal really well and, being the first goal of the game, it was vital for us.”
Barkhuizen, 25, has been a key cog in Preston’s works for the past 18 months or so.
Signed for a knock-down fee from Morecambe, he was eased into the squad before being handed his first start in March 2017.
He hit a run of six goals in six starts, playing either as a striker or on the wing.
Last season Neil used him predominantly out wide, with Barkhuizen featuring in every Championship game.
He started 43 times and came off the bench in the other three.
Eight goals came from him, four of those in an eight-game spell from the end of January through to early March.
This season, Barkhuizen has played 14 league and cup games, starting 10 of them.
His competition on the right-hand side of the attack comes in the shape of Graham Burke and Brandon Barker.
Burke’s appearances have been limited of late, with the former Shamrock Rovers man making only two substitute appearances in the last month.
Manchester City loanee Barker has seen much more action, both starting and from the bench.
However, illness meant he missed the 3-3 draw at Aston Villa.