Preston boss Alex Neil admits he has ‘bled dry’ winger Tom Barkhuizen this season.
The 24-year-old has played in all 45 of North End’s league games this season – starting 43 of them.
Barkhuizen was on the bench for last week’s 1-0 win at Sheffield United, joining the action in the 58th minute.
The only other time he was a sub was against Millwall in January when he came off the bench at half-time.
Neil said: “Tom is someone I have bled dry this year if I’m being honest.
“Tom’s played more than he probably should have done.
“He has become that important to us in the way that he stretches the game.”
Barkhuizen had shown signs of fatigue of late, likewise at the turn of the year when his form was hit by a bout of illness.
Hence Neil deciding to have him on the bench to start with at Bramall Lane.
“I had been toying with it for the last four or five games but the skill-set Tom has got, we don’t really possess in any other player,” said Neil.
“Not only is Tom really quick but he is prepared to move away from the ball and stretch the game by doing that.
“We’ve got Sean Maguire who is pretty quick but he likes to come towards the ball.
“Whereas Tom is a rare player in the fact he is quite happy to stretch the game and get away from the ball – when we have possession he wants the play played in front of him rather than to feet.
“When you haven’t got that, it takes a dimension away from us.
“If you’ve not got that, the opposition aren’t scared of leaving space behind them and that helps them squeeze the game.
“I thought Sheffield United did that well to us last week.
“When Tom came on, he began to stretch the game a bit more, which helped us.
“All things being equal, if I had a similar player then Tom would have been rested sooner.”