Manager Simon Grayson is expecting to have to make some tough choices this weekend with players getting and taking their opportunity in Tuesday’s cup tie at Burnley.
The North End boss made six changes for the game at Turf Moor to the team that started at Coventry City just 48 hours previous and a number of those brought into the starting XI for the derby game staked their claim for further involvement this weekend against the Saddlers.
Speaking at his pre-match press briefing for the trip down the M6, Simon said that he will need to have a long hard think before making his final decision on who plays at the weekend.
“Scott Laird and Joel Byrom came into the team for the first time and played 90 minutes and looked fit and strong,” he told the gathered media. “Individuals in the team can be pleased, but the focus quickly changes round to the weekend.
“You need competition for places, so that those in the team are constantly looking over their shoulders to people who are training well or playing well in the reserves and taking opportunities.
“I have said a few times that some players have been really unlucky not even to make the 18 and Joel was certainly one of them. He came back fit, had a good pre-season, scored a few goals and he has kept on working and that reflected in his performance the other night. He looked like he had played the majority of the season with his fitness levels and how he was on the ball, so I was delighted for him and one or two of the other players and that has given me a problem for the weekend now.
“When you get into the team, you have to make sure you do enough to stay in it and that will be down to me to decide what we need to do, to pick a team that is going to go to Walsall and win. People like Joel and Scott have done well and make my decisions more difficult.”
The trip to the midlands is the final game of a busy first month of the season and looking back on the opening six games completed, Simon feels there is plenty more to come.
“From the outside people will be a little bit frustrated because we have drawn the first four league games, but we could quite easily have won all those games in different manners,” he continued. “I am disappointed and slightly frustrated that we should have a few more points, but there are encouraging signs and we need to remember it is not a four/five game season, it is a 46 game season, so we just have to keep working hard.
“People shouldn’t get too pessimistic because we haven’t won the first four games; we are still undefeated and we will go to Walsall in good spirits and try and take them on in what is a tough place to go; against a good team who surprised a lot of people last season and who have had a good start.
“We have worked hard on the training pitch, but we have a lot of work still to be done.”
The opponents at weekend have started with two wins, a draw and a defeat and will be a tough test for the Lilywhites: “They have carried on from last year. They narrowly missed out on the Play-Offs and they play good football with a tempo.
“They aren’t the biggest of teams, so they have to pass it around with a purpose and they have players that pass and move and they have started the season quite well. They lost to Stoke in midweek, but put on a decent performance against a Premier League team and we know we are going to be in for a tough game.
“The Banks’s Stadium is always a difficult place to go; it is quite tight on top of you, but if we can carry the performance and the application and attitude from Tuesday forward into the game then we will give a good account of ourselves. But we have to replicate that in the league games,” he added.