Garner's legacy at Preston
Joe Garner's three-and-a-half years with Preston North End have been entertaining, colourful and largely very successful.
The striker, a lifelong PNE supporter, is nearing a move to Scottish football with Rangers, for a fee reported to be around the £1.7m mark.
It was in January 2013 that North End brought Garner back to Lancashire – he lives in the Ribble Valley – signing him from Watford on a free transfer.
He had scored against them earlier in the season for Carlisle United – where he had been on loan from Watford – and was a real handful at Deepdale that night.
Garner made his PNE debut in a 3-2 defeat at Coventry City in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, that coming in the final few weeks of Graham Westley’s reign.
To start with, there were few signs of the form which would eventually make him one of the most feared strikers in League One.
Westley went from the manager’s office and Simon Grayson came, but the 2012/13 season ended with Garner still to get off the mark in Preston colours.
That changed three games into the 2013/14 campaign when he found the net in a 2-2 draw with MK Dons at Deepdale.
There then followed an eight-game spell when Garner didn’t score, before his North End career took off in some style.
He came off the bench to head a 90th minute equaliser against Tranmere, that the first of seven goals in five games.
Garner scored twice the following week in a 6-0 FA Cup drubbing of Barnet, then netted a superb volley to give PNE a 1-0 victory at Leyton Orient.
The front man scored against Colchester and then twice – rather controversially – at Port Vale.
Controversial because he should have been sent-off before the goals, team-mate Neil Kilkenny getting the red card in a case of mistaken identity.
Garner scored a cracker of an opening goal for 10-man PNE that night, adding a second from the penalty spot.
The red card was later transferred to him, a suspension ending that scoring run.
An FA Cup replay against Ipswich in January 2014 saw Garner’s first hat-trick in a Preston shirt.
The following month, Garner scored a penalty against Leyton Orient, that game played just hours after the sad passing of PNE legend Sir Tom Finney – Garner was one of the six pallbearers at Sir Tom’s funeral.
Without doubt, Garner’s best goal for Preston came in the 2014 play-off semi-final against Rotherham.
He chested down Tom Clarke’s pass, took a second touch with his foot and without the ball touching the ground, volleyed a superb right-finish over the Millers goalkeeper from outside the box.
North End missed out on promotion via the play-offs that season but were to complete the job 12 months later.
Having netted 24 goals in 2013/14, Garner bettered that in 2014/15 with 27 goals.
He scored three goals in the opening two games against Notts County and Scunthorpe, and never really stopped after that.
Against Fleetwood, North End turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win, Garner scoring a second-half hat-trick.
A shin injury saw him miss 12 weeks of the campaign but he returned in typical style, netting twice in a 2-0 win at Chesterfield.
He linked-up with lethal effect with Jermaine Beckford in the final couple of months of the season.
On March 14, 2015, Garner scored four goals in a 5-1 home victory over Crewe – he was the first PNE player to find the net four times in a game since Alex Bruce did so in 1978.
Another hat-trick followed to see off Swindon, a team who would be their opponents a month later in the play-off final at Wembley.
After North End made a hash of clinching automatic promotion, they made no mistake in the play-offs.
Garner scored from the penalty spot in the second leg of the 4-0 aggregate win over Chesterfield.
At Wembley, it was Beckford who took centre stage with a hat-trick but Garner still played his part in a memorable afternoon.
Supporters still recall him punching the air and urging the crowd’s support as North End won a late corner with them 4-0 ahead.
It must be said that last season was more of a struggle for Garner in terms of goals.
With Beckford absent for most of the campaign through injuries, quite often Garner was played as a lone central striker, his support coming from the wings rather than next to him.
He took until November to get off the mark, scoring against his former club Blackburn in a 2-1 defeat at Deepdale.
Garner netted the following week at Fulham and scored a penalty against Reading a couple of weeks later in a mini purple patch.
In February, he scored the winner against Sheffield Wednesday and then the first goal in a 2-1 victory over Charlton four days later.
Should the move to Rangers be completed, the record books will show that the last of his 57 competitive goals for Preston came in the derby victory over Blackburn at Ewood Park on April 2.
There were more than 7,000 PNE supporters at Ewood to see Garner score from the penalty spot and celebrate with a chicken run.
Saturday’s loss to Fulham looks to have been the last of 151 appearances in the Preston No.14 shirt – a shirt which was ripped by a Cottagers defender during a usual combative performance.
It is the end of a particularly enjoyable era, one in which Garner was taken into the hearts of the North End faithful.
They sang about their love for him and his red hair.
The goals might have dried up somewhat over the past year, but the adulation of the supporters has not.
His impending move to Rangers is being mourned by many, but with a sense of realism by others.
If Garner is to take the high road to Glasgow, he will leave with a bagful of good wishes and very happy memories.
To coin a local phrase, he was ‘one of our own’, a lad who once watched from the Town End and eventually made it on to the Deepdale turf.