Preston North End club captain Tom Clarke is enjoying the tempo to training with the majority of the squad back fit and competing for a place in the manager’s plans.
Only long-term casualties Billy Bodin and Josh Harrop, both sidelined with ACL ruptures, are currently unavailable through injury, meaning Alex Neil has plenty of options when it comes to selecting his squad at a weekend.
And the PNE skipper says that the sharpness of training is intensified when every player has another breathing down his neck wanting his shirt when it comes to matchday.
Speaking to iFollow PNE ahead of the last game before the final international break of the calendar year the defender was finding the quality and competitiveness a big positive in the camp.
“The gaffer has created a great squad here,” said the No.5. “There is competition for places and training is healthy. You want everyone pushing each other.
“We are getting bodies back; there was a bounce game this week for a lot of those lads, which is good for them, and it is great for us and gives the manager a headache when it comes to selection.
“There is a real competitive edge to training and that’s how it should be. You need to be playing well on matchdays, otherwise there is someone wanting to take your place and that is a good attitude for everyone to have.
“It keeps you on your toes and means you all have to keep working hard, performing well and making it hard for everyone.”
The team head to Ashton Gate with the defensive unit inspired by their efforts in the closing stages at Ipswich Town last weekend and the Halifax-born man feels this is a level they need to maintain.
“We all needed to step up,” he continued. “They put the pressure on, put balls in and the lads, to a man, defended brilliantly and I think we needed to do that.
“It is something that has not happened recently, but we are getting back to that and it is something we needed to do.
“We have watched the game back and we did well to stop their threat. It was a little bit of quality for the only shot they had, but Gally pulled off a great save to keep it out and that was the pleasing thing after the game – how we defended; the fact we were resolute and we really had the chances to win.”
The clash in the south west at the weekend brings back plenty of positive memories for the Lilywhites’ defensive leader, with North End ten games unbeaten against the Robins, but he is not taking anything for granted against a squad with some familiar faces in it.
“It has been a happy hunting ground. We have had some good results against them, home and away, and we will be looking to do that again.
“We know it will be a tough game, they have started really well, but we are in a good run of form now and we want to carry that on.
“We have had a rivalry with them back to League One and an odd couple of players from here have gone to there and that adds to it. The games are always tough and we are looking forward to it.
“The lads who went there have done tremendously well. Josh [Brownhill] was a young player when he was here with great potential and he has gone on to do really well at Bristol City. Bails, frustratingly for him, has not played much due to injury, but hopefully he will be back soon,” he added.