Preston North End were hit by a second major blow in the wake of them sacking Sir Alex Ferguson's son Darren when the Stoke City manager, Tony Pulis, recalled his club's players, Danny Pugh and Michael Tonge, from their loan spells at the bottom-placed Championship club.
It follows Ferguson's decision to recall the United players Ritchie de Laet and Josh King from Preston where they were on loan under Darren, who was sacked on Wednesday. Sir Alex is also understood to have told Matty James, another United midfielder on a year-long loan at Preston, that he too will have to return to United.
The official reason given by Stoke is that Pugh and Tonge, who have been part of the Preston first team since their arrival in November, are needed to cover a "busy" spell of three games in eight days for Stoke. However, Preston themselves are concerned that they are reaping the effect of the influence of Ferguson – unhappy at the sacking of Darren – throughout the Premier League.
Pugh and Tonge, both former United trainees, were told on Wednesday that they would be returning to United, although the decision was not announced until yesterday. Both had loan contracts until 16 January which would have enabled them to play in a further three league games for Preston.
Pugh and De Laet are both represented by the agent Chris Lomas, who previously worked at the Elite agency with another of Ferguson's sons, the former agent Jason. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Lomas and he was only informed of the decision to recall both players after they had been told the news by their respective clubs.
Lomas said yesterday that De Laet's loan deal at Preston was due to expire on Tuesday. "As for the reason it is not something I was party to," he said. "They have called him back two days early."
It all makes for a very challenging start to the managerial career of David Unsworth who, at 37, has been given the job on a caretaker basis at Preston since Ferguson's dismissal. Since then, Preston have signed on-loan Iain Hume from Barnsley on a permanent basis.
The Preston chairman, Maurice Lindsay, said that the recall of De Laet and King had come as a "shock". "Under the terms of the agreement they can do that – we recognise United's legal right to do that," he said.