Tony Mowbray feels Scott Wharton is rising to the challenge as the homegrown central defender prepares for a third consecutive start at Deepdale on derby day.

Wharton has had to be patient for his chance, waiting more than four years and playing over 100 times out on loan between his Rovers league debut in 2016 and his current run in the side.

But Mowbray feels Wharton has shown the value of having a fourth recognised centre half in the squad, with Daniel Ayala and Derrick Williams out injured.

Rovers were roughed by North End in this fixture last season as a second half surrender saw a 2-0 half-time lead end in a 3-2 defeat.

With Wharton set to partner captain Darragh Lenihan, who missed last season’s defeat, Mowbray feels the pair are ready for the challenge.

“He’s been very good. I did have a chat with him after that first game and talked about the fate of other young centre halves, having won their first games, and making sure that he has real focus and concentration,” Mowbray told the Lancashire Telegraph.

“There was potential for him to get targeted and that if he did get targeted that he pushed his shoulders back and be dominant, aggressive and do the job.

“I felt he did that at the weekend, I didn’t feel there was a weakness there, and he’s looking forward to it. That’s his mentality, ‘bring the next one on’ and he’s looking forward to that challenge.

“That’s a great mentality for the kid to have. I’ve been really pleased with him.”

Tyler Magloire and Hayden Carter have both made their Championship debuts in the centre of the Rovers defence in recent seasons, but given his experience out on loan, Wharton is the most senior of the Academy graduates in that position.

His distribution from the back is an area of his game the Salesbury-born defender says he is working hard on, and Mowbray says his willingness to learn has been impressive.

“He works really hard on his distribution and all parts of his game. He has a growth mindset which if you want to be a top footballer you have to have a mindset that is you want to improve every day. Scott has got that.”

Lenihan has had three different central defenders already this season, while Joe Rankin-Costello was forced to fill in at left back when both Barry Douglas and Amari’i Bell were out.

Wharton’s first start against QPR meant the whole back four had graduated through the Academy, with Lenihan at 26 the elder statesmen.

Injury to Elliott Bennett has seen Lenihan be captain for all 11 matches he’s started this season, and while Rovers have been hit by unavailability this season, the Irishman believes they have shown they have the depth to cope.

“The good thing is that we’ve got the depth to deal with the injuries,” he said.

“Scotty has come in and done ever so well, he’s been brilliant since he came back in.

“I’ve seen a massive difference in him, the belief he has in himself, he’s not come in as just a young lad coming through, he plays as though he’s one of the main players.

“He’s got a good voice in the defence, and I’ve seen a massive difference in him and that’s the main thing about going out on loan, you go and get that experience and confidence and when you do come in you’re more than ready to step in.”