Preston boss Alex Neil hopes his ‘whippet’ Tom Barkhuizen is now back to full speed after a difficult spell.
Barkhuizen netted his fifth goal of the season in Tuesday night’s win over Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.
He also displayed a good turn of pace down the wing, something which had been missing from his game of late.
Neil put Barkhuizen’s dip down to illness which dogged him for a few week.
The signs are that he is back to good health, a boost for North End as they look to keep pace with the play-off chasing pack.
“A lot goes on behind the scenes of a football club which people don’t know about,” Neil told the Post.
“Tom, for the best part of a month, has been ill.
“That is why I have used him more sporadically in the last few weeks and not quite as often as I did.
“It wasn’t anything to do with form because he has been a key performer for us.
“Tom lost two kilos and if you look at him, he is like a whippet and can’t afford to lose anything.
“We’re trying to put weight on him more than anything.
“He’s not been well and has had blood tests done to make sure he is okay because he was fatigued after games, which was unusual.
“Thankfully it looks like the illness is going away now and we are getting the best out of him – I hope that continues.”
Until last month’s 1-1 draw at Millwall, Barkhuizen had started every Championship game this season.
Even at The Den, he came on as a half-time substitute.
The week before in the FA Cup at Wycombe, Barkhuizen had been left on the bench.
In the fourth round against Sheffield United last week, he was a substitute as Neil sought to give him a breather.
Said Neil: “We demand a hell of a lot from some of the lads and Tom is one of them.
“He churned out six games in 24 days which might not sound a lot to some people but it is, at the intensity these lads are going at.
“Tom is running at a high intensity for 90 minutes and gets through a lot of work.”
Barkhuizen played on the left wing at Forest, his goal a header from a Paul Gallagher corner.
On the other flank was new boy Billy Bodin who opened the scoring with his first goal in a Preston shirt.
Neil was impressed with Bodin’s performance.
He said: “Tuesday night was Billy’s best game for us.
“The lad got his goal and earned us the penalty for the third goal.
“Billy has real quality with his left foot when he tracks inside from the right-hand side.
“It’s been a big move for him here as he has come from a different part of the country, he has moved his life up here.”