Preston North End full-back Joe Rafferty is set to return to first-team action this weekend in a friendly against Bamber Bridge, with the 27-year-old making a full recovery from a double back fracture.
The Irishman missed the final eight games of the season and with Preston boss Frankie McAvoy only coming in at the end of March after Alex Neil’s departure, the 54-year-old has not seen Rafferty in action whilst he’s been manager, but will now get the chance in pre-season to assess whether he’s ready to start next term.
However, the right-back now has competition with Sepp van den Berg (loan) and Matthew Olosunde joining the club in the past few weeks, with the latter coming in on a free transfer from recently relegated side Rotherham United.
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Van den Berg enjoyed his time playing on the right at the latter end of his spell at Deepdale – but now wants to return to his more orthodox position in central defence with the Liverpool loanee keen to show Jurgen Klopp what he can do – giving the 27-year-old a route back into the starting lineup.
Speaking to the club’s iFollow service about the injury and his subsequent recovery, Rafferty said: “It was a bit of a funny one really, I ended up fracturing my back. I think it was against Luton, it was Alex Neil’s last game and someone just came in behind me.
“I happened to get it checked out and they said I had two fractures in my back, so it was quite a sore one but it’s all healed now.
“At first I just had a little bit of time off because there was not much I could have done apart from rest and let it heal on its own type of thing. As the weeks went on it was just kind of about getting up and starting again, get yourself fit.
“So I ended up having to do a little bit more over the summer because I missed the last two months, but once it healed it was fine, back to normal.”
Rafferty made 26 appearances in all competitions for the Lilywhites last season before his injury in mid-March – and will be hoping to increase this tally next term.
Preston North End have already strengthened their defence this summer with van den Berg, Olosunde and Liam Lindsay all coming in – but this will feel like another new signing for Frankie McAvoy who hasn’t been able to utilise the 27-year-old.
A broken back sounds like quite a serious injury but with the full-back not feeling the effects too badly and fully fit again, he now has the chance to impress his boss over the next few weeks and battle with the talented Olosunde for a spot in the starting 11.
Although this signing may have been bad news for Rafferty, it will help to maintain his performance levels and could spur him on to success next season. But if the new arrival from Rotherham proves to be a hit, the Irishman’s ability to play on both sides could come in handy.