Manchester United have prematurely recalled Will Keane from his spell at Preston North End as Louis van Gaal seeks to boost his attacking options amid a desperately poor period of form. After scoring three times during a similar stint with Sheffield Wednesday last term, the striker was due to remain in the Championship until the end of 2015/16 after joining the newly-promoted Lilywhites on a season-long loan deal back in July.
Keane made a further 14 appearances in all competitions during his time at Deepdale, with his only two goals under Simon Grayson coming in a Capital One Cup first-round victory at Crewe Alexandra in August and last month's impressive 2-0 win over Lancashire rivals Burnley. He returns to Old Trafford at a time when Van Gaal's position appears severely under threat thanks to a sequence of eight matches without victory and a hopeless run of four straight defeats that was finally ended by a goalless draw against Chelsea on 28 December.
The club's uncharacteristic struggles in front of goal have been compounded by former striker Javier Hernández's superb Bundesliga form for Bayer Leverkusen, while 20-year-old James Wilson has also found the net twice on loan at Brighton and Hove Albion. United do possess the option to recall the latter also, but for now have opted just to bring back Keane.
"[It happened] in the last 24 hours or so. United felt they needed an extra body around them," Preston boss Grayson confirmed to Sky Sports News.
"Obviously, it's disappointing to lose Will. In the last few weeks, he's been finding his feet with us. But that is what happens when you get loan players.
"We accept it. We will probably go into the market over the next few days and weeks to bring in reinforcements. Hopefully, he will do well for Manchester United."
While Keane has returned to Manchester United, one player heading in the opposite direction is Sam Johnstone. The goalkeeper, who impressed on a pre-season tour to the US before becoming deputy to Sergio Romero during David de Gea's summer transfer saga, joins his hometown club on loan for a second time, replacing Jordan Pickford after Sunderland exercised their recall option on the impressive England U21 international.