With PNE's long list of injuries at the moment, all eyes are on North End’s medical department and club physiology Matt Jackson.
Jackson has lead the medical department at Deepdale for seven years now and he is renowned in the game for his quality in rehabilitating players.
With the circumstances of the injuries suffered, there has been little he and his team have been able to do; with most being contact injuries that no preventative methods can help avoid.
Speaking to PNE.Com, Matt said: “We are obviously very busy at the moment; that’s just unfortunate, its football, it’s a contact sport. We always look into everything we’re doing, is it something we’re doing as a staff? But these injuries all have a contact element in them which you can’t do anything about, it’s a contact sport and you’ve just got to deal with what’s in front of you.
“We run an audit of injuries and at this point last season we’d actually had more injuries; the difference being the severity this time round and it affecting one are of the pitch is a tough pill to swallow for the injured lads.
"For the manager especially, his team selections are challenging at best but you’ve just got to carry on, get them fixed and get them back out there again.”
Two of the longer term injuries in the Lilywhites squad are those of Greg Cunningham and Sean Maguire who have both suffered similar injuries to their muscles. The type of injury is one that is very rare and Jackson believes that the injury could have been a lot worse, despite the lengthy period out.
“Speaking to the radiologist, the guy who reads the scans, speaking to the surgeon – the surgeon probably treats one a week and that’s not just in professional football that’s across the whole population – the injury is rare.
“There were types of players in the past who have probably had a hamstring niggle, played with it for a couple of weeks, broke down, played, broke down and it was probably one of those that ended their career because they were unable to keep going. Medical advances mean they can be addressed and they can be picked up earlier so we can get them fixed and get them back out with hopefully no long-term repercussions.
“There’s massive variations, healing times are a sort of standardised thing and then there is variations around the norm. You can have some people that genetically heal quicker than another person.
“In terms of rehab, in terms of how hard they work, I can give them the work and I can stand over them and sometimes I have to. We’re very fortunate in terms of the squad we’ve got they’re very goal orientated, they’re all motivated – when they are injured they want to get fit.
“We have had, in the past, those that drag their heels in the gym and you have to stand over them. That’s less so the case now, when you’ve got a lot of lads out injured it makes my job a lot easier.”
With players consistently performing at the elite level, it can be as much a mental battle as it is physically when they are forced to the sidelines. Jackson looks to incorporate a player’s mental situation as well as physical as he helps them rehabilitate.
“You just recognise if somebody needs a break - the lads will come out and tell you. If there’s a day or couple of days when I can tell they’re not at it and they’re feeling a bit down I’ll give them a carrot or I’ll give them a little bit of time off to get away and refresh.
“Rehab is not so much a physical challenge as it’s a mental challenge. These lads are used to working at a high level, they’re used to physically challenging their body. A lot of the early stage rehab is low intensity and we’ve got to build them up progressively and it can be incredibly monotonous. That monotony is laying the foundations for the rehab when we’re returning them to football.”
Keeping an upbeat atmosphere is important to the medical team and when there’s more than one player out long-term – like Calum Woods and John Welsh recently, or Tom Clarke and Greg Cunningham currently – Jackson thinks that positivity help in their recovery.
“Whilst they’re not doing the same work, they bounce off each other. We’re fortunate in that we’ve got Lewis [Hiney], who assists me; and we’ve got the fitness lads, Tom [Little] and Luke Hemmings. We all work really well together, we all bounce off each other and we have a laugh and a joke whilst we’re working.
“There’s nothing worse than being in the gym, which is a big desolate room, freezing in winter, boiling hot in summer and seeing the lads out training – it’s depressing for the lads who aren’t out there. So we just try to have a laugh and a joke, make everything as light hearted as possible but we’re serious when we need to be.”
With a focused and determined attitude across the squad, it doesn’t just end with the playing staff. Jackson shares the resilience of the players and the collective team orientated ethos.
“It's about the team’s success first and foremost. It’s why I’m here; to get the lads back fit and for the team to be successful on the field. Whether that’s keeping people ticking over or getting them back out training that’s my job, we do it because we want success on the field.
“I probably have the closest relationships with players at the club because I’m working with them one on one. I spend a lot of time with them, it is one of the plus sides, it’s one of the main reasons I do this job. It’s getting people back fit and get them out doing what they enjoy doing and getting them earning a living. It’s why I do it.”