Sheffield United: How the availability of one Preston North End player could change the dynamic of Saturday’s clash at Deepdale
Having scored nearly a fifth of Preston North End's league goals this season, and over a quarter of their efforts at Deepdale, Alan Browne will be given every opportunity to prove his fitness for Sheffield United's visit on Saturday afternoon.
The Republic of Ireland international, who missed last weekend's defeat by Reading due to injury, is hopeful of recovering in time to face Chris Wilder's side together with fellow midfielder Brad Potts.
Having netted 11 times in the Championship since August, Browne's presence changes the dynamic of a team whose first instinct is to stifle opponents before exploiting opportunities at the other end of the pitch. It was proved to be an effective strategy, albeit one borne out of necessity rather than any great desire on manager Alex Neil's part. Despite losing a host of key players in recent months, the loss in Berkshire ended a 12 match unbeaten run which has propelled Preston into play-off contention.
Neil found himself grappling with another selection crisis during Preston's match at the Madejski Stadium, when Brandon Barker was forced-off with a hamstring complaint less than 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute. Ben Pearson also suffered a similar injury but was able to complete the fixture.
"The extent (of the problems) we find out in the next few days," Neil said earlier this week. "I don't think Pearo's is bad, it was just tightening up hence why he played on. But we finished the game with 10 men for the last 10 minutes.
"But we are not going to sit here and sorry for ourselves, that is the circumstances we have been dealt. We are very hopeful we will have a couple of the lads who have been missing back for the next game."
As recent results demonstrate, Preston have improved dramatically following September's defeat at Bramall Lane. That result left them rooted at the bottom of the table but they enter their latest meeting with United in 10th, having beaten leaders Norwich City on home soil two months ago. Bristol City, who beat United 3-2 last weekend, Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Aston Villa are among those also to drop points in Lancashire.
"We run heavy and we run hard, we have got success that way," Neil said, acknowledging Preston's work-rate could be behind their injury problems. "For us to dip away from that approach would damage our prospects.
“Players suffer injuries in different ways, it is not as if you can bracket them all into one category."