Phil Parkinson believes City’s new recruits have finally given him a selection headache again.
Wingers Kyle Bennett and Adam Reach and attacking midfielder Chris Atkinson are all vying for starts against Preston at Valley Parade tonight.
And key defender Andrew Davies could also be on the verge of a return after 17 games out following knee surgery.
Parkinson can see plenty of plusses as City target their first home win since September to breathe new life into a faltering campaign.
He believes the new faces have reintroduced competition for places – something that has been lacking recently.
Parkinson said: “Some have been changes by necessity in terms of injuries, others by choice. It’s good to have some different personalities around the place.
“They are young, athletic players and I feel they will all add something to the team.
“It’s been tough. We’ve been at our best when we’ve had competition for places and it’s so important to have that back.
“It keeps people on their toes across the pitch.
“We’ve had plenty of thinking time to look at the squad and we’ve got to make sure that our big players are playing well.
“Sometimes the best way to regulate that is to make sure there is competition in the team.”
With no Kyel Reid or Nahki Wells, Bennett and Reach will provide some much-needed zip to City’s attack. Atkinson is a midfielder who likes to get into the opposition penalty area and feed off knock-downs.
Parkinson said: “Chris is a different type of midfield player to what we’ve got. He is someone who can get box to box quickly and make good runs.
“Adam and Kyle certainly inject some pace, which we lacked when Reidy went off injured.
“There’s a freshness around the building. A shake-up of the pack was needed.
“You don’t want to disrupt everything but we’ve tried to add some ingredients into the team which can improve us.”
Middlesbrough winger Reach is relishing the chance to feed James Hanson and Aaron Mclean from out wide.
He said: “I’ll hug the touchline and whip countless balls in with my left foot and hopefully get the strikers a few goals. I’ll try and be as exciting as I can.
“Hanson’s like a magnet with the crosses because he’s such a big target. Him and Azzer both know where to be in the box so it makes my job a lot easier.
“I’m really looking forward to it. The following here is so good, nearly matching Middlesbrough in the league above.
“When I came with Shrewsbury, the crowd was very intimidating and I can’t wait to have those fans behind me.
“I’ve played Preston this season and they are a handful. It’s a test but you have got to beat the best teams.”
Preston, who are without the suspended Kevin Davies, have lost only twice away and won eight. Parkinson and Steve Parkin saw them draw at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup.
Parkinson said: “They are a well drilled team who don’t give much away on their travels. They aren’t going to open up too much, although they have got some good attacking players.
“We had a great game against them at Deepdale. I think it was one of the best of the season and this will be just as competitive.”
Parkinson also bumped into the referee’s assessor from the Sheffield United game at the City Ground – and had a few more words about official Roger East’s performance that day.
He still feels short-changed over the incident when Jose Baxter blocked a header on the line with his arm.
Parkinson added: “That was one of the most blatant handballs I’ve seen in a long time so it’s a red card and a penalty.
“The assessor said we should also have had a penalty when Mclean got elbowed. We got absolutely no favours.
“If you can’t see a player has pushed the ball over the bar with his arm and you’re 15 yards away, then I hope the referee isn’t going to progress too quickly up the ladder.”