Tom’s back in the old routine of keeping it clean

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The Championship does not offer a gentle reintroduction to players coming back from an injury, something Preston North End skipper Tom Clarke experienced this week.

After missing two games with a groin strain, Clarke was pitched straight into the heat of battle as PNE visited big-spending Derby.

Keeping the Rams’ expensively assembled forward line quiet might have looked daunting.

But together with Bailey Wright and Paul Huntington, Clarke smothered their threat.

This weekend, a similar task awaits at Deepdale as they face a Huddersfield team who know where the net is.

Clarke had to sit out the games against Ipswich and Brentford, an injury flaring-up just 20 minutes before facing Ipswich.

“It is always frustrating to get an injury and this one was particularly annoying,” Clarke told the Evening Post.

“I knew I had a sore groin but didn’t think it was going to keep me out of any games.

“Before the Ipswich game I did the warm-up and right at the end of it, the muscle went tight on me and pulled a bit.

“I wasn’t out for as long as I feared and that is great credit to the physio staff who got me back for the Derby game.

“That was a hard game to come back into, physically and mentally we had to be right at it.

“But things worked out well, it was pleasing to keep a clean sheet and the only disappointment was that we didn’t put away one of the chances we created.

“Had we scored, I think it would have been a deserved win.

“That said, we would have taken a point had we been offered it before the game.

“With how things unfolded as the game went on and the way we got stronger, we could have won.

“Another clean sheet was very positive though, I’ve been told that is our 13th this season in the Championship.

“As a team, we pride ourselves on working hard and making it as difficult as possible for the opposition.

“If we keep the back door shut, the least we are going to get is a draw – we have creative players in midfield and up front who can get us a goal.”

Derby were snuffed out on the night Anders Lindegaard made his Preston debut.

The Danish goalkeeper will make his Deepdale bow on Saturday, this hopefully the start of some stability between the posts after the recent upheaval.

Said Clarke: “It is great to have a keeper of Anders’ experience here and we were able to get a few days of training with him before playing Derby.

“That was a big help because he was able to get used to how we played and we got to know him.

“Anders is a really experienced keeper who commands well and is a good talker.

“We have been blessed with some good goalkeepers here in the last two or three years.

“Jordan Pickford and Sam Johnstone have been with us this season and Sam was here for part of last season.

“Before that, we had Declan Rudd who was terrific and made a big impression.”

Huddersfield’s visit will see Clarke up against his old club for the second time in six weeks.

The Terriers beat North End 3-1 on a wet and miserable Boxing Day, that not exactly the happy return to West Yorkshire which Clarke had envisaged.

He was there from the age of eight through to when PNE signed him on a Bosman in June 2013.

Although Clarke broke into the Huddersfield first-team as a teenager and stayed until he was 25, he has more appearances for Preston under his belt (135) than he managed for this weekend’s visitors (111).

Clarke said: “Huddersfield have changed manager in the last few months, bringing in David Wagner.

“I have spoken to a few people who I know there and they say he has made a few changes.

“Their training is a lot more intense and they sometimes train at different times, coming in at 5.30pm in the evening.

“Huddersfield have a lot of attacking quality in their team and a lot of firepower. We lost over at their place on Boxing Day which was really disappointing.

“It seemed that nothing went well for us that afternoon and performances like that have been few and far between thankfully.

“We responded well to that defeat, kicking-on and going on a good run of results in the league.

“This weekend we will be looking to put right what happened on Boxing Day.”

The midweek draw with Derby moved North End up to 14th place in the table.

Their high-water mark to date this season has been 13th and pushing into the top half of the division is a realistic target.

“We are pleased with the transition we have made,” said Clarke. “We have a mixture of players who haven’t played in this division before and a few who have done at other clubs.

“As a team, we have done okay, we would probably have just liked to have turned a few of the draws into wins. We are coming up against clubs like Derby who have lots of good, experienced players in their side and on the bench.

“Over the next few months we have 17 games coming up to put more points on the board.”