PNE hot-shot Joe had stint at the City Ground

Joe Garner
Joe Garner
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Preston North End supporters had two seasons watching Billy Davies direct operations from the dugout when he was in charge at Deepdale.

Joe Garner – himself a PNE fan as a lad – went one better and experienced working under Davies during three years on the books of Nottingham Forest.

The striker makes his return to the City Ground tonight for North End’s clash with Forest in the fourth round of the FA Cup (8pm).

And it will give him the chance to have a quick catch up with Davies, the Scotsman now in charge of the Championship club for a second time.

With 12 goals in his last 12 appearances, Garner will carry the visitors’ biggest attacking threat this evening in a game where they start as underdogs.

But with a big following of fans behind them and having beaten two Championship clubs this term, there is no feeling of fear among the Preston squad.

Garner said: “I’m looking forward to going back to Forest and seeing a few old faces and friends.

“I went back there with Watford and got a draw, and hopefully it can be a win this time.

“Although Billy Davies was not the Forest manager when I signed for them, he took over in my first season.

“Billy is a well-respected and top manager, and since he has gone back to Forest they have played some good football.

“He is very passionate about his job and gets the best out of his players.

“His record as a manager speaks for itself and he likes his players to work as hard as he does.

“Billy likes to have a lot of strikers in his squad – there is always a lot of competition up there.

“You look at the Forest squad at the moment and in terms of strikers they have Dexter Blackstock, who is struggling to get a game.

“Then there is Matt Derbyshire and Darius Henderson, the list goes on further. I think it can only benefit everyone else if you have got good strikers. That is where the money is made, as they say.”

Garner found himself used as a winger for much of his time in the Forest side.

That would probably explain a relatively low goal return at the City Ground.

He scored 10 goals in a three-year stay, although the third season was mainly spent out on loan.

“I really enjoyed it at Forest, to be fair,” said Garner. “A lot of my games came on the right wing and we got to the play-offs two seasons running.

“They should probably have gone up.

“I didn’t mind playing on the right although I probably did not score as many goals as I would have liked.”

Garner was North End’s hero in their third-round replay win over Ipswich, which set up this evening’s tie.

He came off the bench to net a 21-minute hat-trick, the first treble of his career.

That has contributed to him being the club’s leading scorer this season by some margin, 13 goals having come from his boots and head.

It is remarkable to think that 12 of those have hit the net since November 2. That day against Tranmere he headed a late equaliser and has not really stopped scoring since.

Said Garner: “Personally, my confidence is high and I have been fortunate enough to score a lot of goals.

“As a team we are a confident group of lads and long may that continue.

“At this level I am always confident that I can score goals.

“It did take me a little while to get going here and, although I was getting the chances, they just weren’t going in.

“I would be hitting the post or bar but just at the moment the same sort of chances are flying in.

“It all started in the Tranmere game and I have managed to keep going from there.

“I have been working hard at my game and working hard in the gym with the fitness coaches.

“I feel a lot stronger and a bit fitter and sharper. The training we do is top drawer, and the staff deserve a lot of credit for the way they prepare us during the week.”

Garner sees no reason why North End cannot cause an upset tonight, the players having collected more confidence from beating Ipswich 10 days ago.

He said: “We deserved to get through the third round, I thought we were the better side over the two games.

“Playing Forest will be tough but we go there with confidence looking for a result.

“I like the FA Cup – it is a massive competition and it is good to be part of it.

“Another good result would help us with our form in the league.”