JAMES Beattie could return to action for Sheffield United today after completing a gruelling month long training schedule.
The former England international is available for selection when Preston North End visit Bramall Lane this afternoon after serving a three match suspension following his dismissal against Charlton Athletic.
Acknowledging Beattie lacked sharpness when he completed an emotional return to United eight weeks ago, Danny Wilson, the United manager, ordered his conditioning department to devise a tailor-made fitness programme for the experienced centre-forward.
Wilson told The Star: “I don’t think James will have enjoyed his break. In fact, I don’t think you can even call it a break because he’s been worked ever so hard.
“In fairness to the lad, he’s really thrown himself into it and he admitted himself that something like this was exactly what he needed.
“We’re sure he’ll really benefit from the exercises he’s been doing.
“James has done well since he’s been here anyway but now, hopefully, he’ll be able to do even more.”
Beattie, who scored 34 goals in 65 appearances after becoming United’s record signing in 2007, enjoyed spells with Stoke City, Glasgow Rangers and Blackpool before penning a short-term agreement with Wilson’s side in November.
With Will Hoskins, Chris Porter and Richard Cresswell also vying for a place alongside leading scorer Ched Evans, Wilson finds himself in the enviable position of having five centre-forwards at his disposal for the meeting with opponents beaten 4-2 at Deepdale earlier this season.
Wilson, insisting that result will have “absolutely no bearing” upon the outcome of today’s contest, said: “The strikers are all really supportive of one another.
“They are all competing for a role in the starting line-up but they help each other out and get along well which is good to see.
“There are little things that a manager can do to help team spirit.
“If someone is causing problems and they’re a bad apple then you get rid of them straight away.
“But, basically, it comes down to the lads themselves. They’re the ones who are responsible for creating the atmosphere behind the scenes and they’ve done it really well.”
“It’s not a horrible position to be in when you’ve got to choose between strikers,” added Wilson.
“Quite the opposite in fact.”
Meanwhile United, who last night handed midfielder Lee Williamson (calf) a fitness test, have placed tickets for next weekend’s Steel City derby beam-back, priced £10 adults and £5 concessions, on general sale.
The John Street Stand, including its hospitality boxes, will be open for the event.