PNE striker targets Championship return

Joe Garner watches his header hit the net for Preston's fourth goal at Scunthorpe last Saturday

Joe Garner watches his header hit the net for Preston's fourth goal at Scunthorpe last Saturday

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Joe Garner thinks his ambition of playing in the Championship again can be satisfied at Preston North End.

The striker experienced English football’s second tier with Nottingham Forest and Watford, and this summer was the subject of strong interest from clubs at that level.

Speculation over his Deepdale future was put to bed this week when he signed a new two-year contract – effectively a 12-month extension as he still had a year to go.

Garner’s task this season is to get the goals which can help fire North End back to the Championship and make sure there is no repeat of this summer’s speculation.

Three goals in two games before he put pen to paper on the new terms might suggest that all the talk was not much of a distraction.

But it is nice all the same that he can concentrate on his football without constant questions over his next move.

Garner, who will lead the PNE attack against Oldham at Deepdale tomorrow (3pm), said: “I always knew that I was never going to go.

“There were a couple of bids from Championship clubs but I think we have a Championship set-up here and hopefully we will be there come May.

“It is nice to get all the speculation out of the way.

“Sometimes it did get frustrating when I knew I wasn’t going anywhere but I kept getting linked with other clubs.

“Everything is put to bed now and I just want to concentrate on the games ahead.

“Unfinished business is a good way of describing how I felt.

“I said last week that it had taken me long enough to get here, and having only been at Preston for a year-and-a-half, I wanted to see things through.

“The players we have brought in this summer and the players already here all believe we can play in the Championship.

“So I did not see any point in going anywhere and now a lot of hard work is needed to get us to where we want to be.”

Garner, 26, credits North End boss Simon Grayson with turning him into the regular goalscorer which he has become over the past season. He had only been at Deepdale a month himself when Grayson was appointed in February 2013 and the pair have worked well together since then.

“Since the gaffer and his staff came in, the club has changed dramatically for the better,” said Garner.

“There is a different feel about the place, the fans seems a lot closer to the players and the city itself seems happier.

“I think that the gaffer has made me a better player. He has put the time in with me and taught me things which I’m working on.

“He has got promotion from this division with a couple of clubs and if anyone knows how to get us out of this league, than it is him. At the moment we are playing with a new 4-3-3 formation, which I have not really played before, and we have been doing a lot of work on it in training.

“I tend to score a lot of goals from crosses, so if we keep getting the ball out wide and knocking in the crosses, I fancy myself to score a few more.

“We have got the two young lads in midfield who give us legs and energy and both have a goal in them.”

There can be few better goal ratios than the one which Garner boasts – since November he has found the net 26 times in 37 appearances.

Little wonder that he was hot property during the summer, and all the more satisfying is that he is scoring for the club he supported as a youngster.

Said Garner: “It is a bit hard to explain, but when I see the young lads in the crowd I know I have an opportunity which they would love, and I’m grateful for that.

“I used to watch strikers like Ricardo Fuller and David Nugent at Deepdale and enjoy seeing them score goals.”

When it comes to reflecting on his best goal to date in a Preston shirt, Garner’s choice is quite a surprise.

Most supporters would not look past his stunning chest down and volley against Rotherham in May’s play-off semi-final.

But it was one from closer in which puts the biggest smile on his face.

“I loved the one I scored against Peterborough at Deepdale in March,” said Garner.

“Paul Gallagher cut inside on his right foot and he hit a shot against the far post.

“It gave me a tap-in but what I liked about it is that I had been waiting for a chance like that for such a long time.

“Time and time again in training I had seen Gally come off the wing, have a shot and see it hit the post.

“One day I knew I would be in the right place to benefit from the rebound.

“The goal which most people will have enjoyed was the Rotherham one.

“But for me, that Peterborough goal was very satisfying. I like scoring any type of goal – that’s my job.

“Hopefully I can score against Oldham tomorrow. They are a decent side but if we can apply ourselves properly then I’m confident we can get a result.

“Our start has been decent enough – we are still unbeaten.”