PNE hitman aims to keep out of trouble

Joe Garner is available after suspension for PNE's visit to Brighton this weekend

Joe Garner is available after suspension for PNE's visit to Brighton this weekend

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Joe Garner comes out of his autumn hibernation at Brighton this weekend, the Preston North End striker determined to keep on the right side of referees on his return.

Garner has lived on a meagre diet of first-team football of late, with just 20 minutes of action under his belt in the last month.

He missed the Capital One Cup clash with Bournemouth having reached the five bookings mark.

Then an early red card against Wolves condemned him to a three-match suspension.

That ban came either side of the two-week international break, the final game of it served against Charlton on Tuesday night.

While his team-mates were putting the Addicks to the sword, Garner was on commentary duty in The Valley’s press box.

On Saturday, he can put the microphone down and pull on his boots once more.

Garner will be under strict instruction to try and steer clear of trouble, both at the Amex Stadium against league leaders Brighton, and beyond that.

Although he is yet to score this season, there is no argument that North End are stronger with the 27-year-old in their squad than without him.

“The last few weeks have been frustrating but I’ve just had to get on with things,” Garner told the Evening Post.

“I’ve worked hard in training with the lads and done some extra stuff to keep my fitness up.

“Now I cannot wait to be back in the squad and get playing again.

“It was disappointing to get the red card against Wolves.

“You could say it was a bit harsh and it was a genuine mistake on my part.

“I didn’t see the defender and I just tried to bring the ball down.

“There was no intent but the referee saw it the way he did and I got sent off.

“With a red card and five yellows this season, I will have to watch my step.

“It has been a bit of a lesson for me, I need to get a few less bookings and be careful to make sure I don’t get another red.

“I won’t be changing my game too much but I need to be aware of how referees see things.”

Garner will have to force his way into a winning team should Simon Grayson choose to start him at Brighton.

His team-mates shone in the 3-0 victory over Charlton, Garner looking on impressively from the confines of the media area.

Said Garner: “The lads were outstanding on Tuesday night, every one of them.

“It is always nice to come out of a game with three points in what is a very tough league.

“If we can bring something back from Brighton too, that would be a huge boost.

“It is a massive game because Brighton are top of the division and playing really well.

“But being involved in these sorts of games is why we worked so hard to get promoted into the Championship.

“This is a big test for us but is one we are looking forward to and we go there with confidence.”

Victory at Charlton lifted North End up to 17th place in the table for 24 hours.

On Wednesday night, they slipped back two places after Brentford won at Wolves and Leeds got a draw against Fulham.

Considering they were bottom going into last weekend, it is a step in the right direction.

So has the Championship been tougher than expected for PNE?

“Going into a higher division is always going to test you,” said Garner.

“Is it tougher than we might have expected? I honestly don’t know because some of us have played at this level before and some haven’t.

“Being honest, I don’t think where we sit in the table does us justice.

“We have done okay in most of the games, been in with a chance of getting something out of all of them.

“Against Wolves we were on top and in the lead before my red card.

“In other games we have gone close to getting something, I hit the post against Derby and the bar in another game.

“Hopefully over the course of the season things will level themselves out and things will fall for us a bit more.”

North End are paying their first visit to the Amex Stadium, previous visits to that part of the world seeing them play Brighton at the Withdean Stadium and before that, the Goldstone Ground.

The Amex Stadium is a ground fit for the Premier League, a prize the Seagulls have their eye on, bearing in mind their current lofty position.

Garner said: “I have played there for Watford and it is a lovely stadium in a nice part of the world.

“Brighton have got some very good players who will need watching – they are at the top of the league for a reason.

“One player who people talk about is Bobby Zamora but we cannot afford just to keep our eye on one player – they have threats all over the pitch.

“We go there looking to try and win the game and we’ll be working hard to do that.”