Laird hails class of PNE strike duo

Preston strike duo Jermaine Beckford and Joe Garner
Preston strike duo Jermaine Beckford and Joe Garner
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Preston North End left-back Scott Laird has praised forward duo Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford, describing them as ‘Premier League quality’.

Garner was named League One player of the year at the Football League awards this week and is the division’s top scorer with 23 goals.

As for Beckford, nine goals in the last 13 games and 12 in total in a PNE shirt, show that he is a player in form.

Both will be in the forward line today as North End look for a victory against Swindon at Deepdale.

Their team-mate Laird told the Evening Post: “I think they are both Premier League quality – there’s no getting away from that.

“Jermaine has played in the Premier League before and scored goals there.

“I think Joe has the ability to play there, that is not trying to big him up – it is the truth.

“In training I see how hard they work and we have all seen what they do on the pitch.

“The other night at Notts County, he got a typical Garner goal, putting himself in where it hurts. Either side of that were two typical Becks goals – pure class.

“There aren’t so many other strikers in this division who have the ability to flick the ball over the defender’s head and hit it on the volley.

“Becks’ work rate is fantastic, he works his backside off for the team.

“He is a very clever player, someone who has been an important addition to us.”

North End had to manage without Beckford for five weeks in late January and into February after a severe inner ear infection laid him low.

The striker has since revealed that retirement crossed his mind, the illness preventing him getting out of bed for three weeks.

Laird admitted that the loss of Beckford for that spell was a worrying one.

“As a squad we were worried for Becks,” said the defender.

“He had quickly become an integral part of the squad, not just as a player but as a good friend too – he’s a great bloke.

“We were very fearful for him because he didn’t get better for quite a while.

“I have known people who have had the same sort of thing and it has affected them for the rest of their lives.

“Becks has come through it, worked hard, got himself fit and he hasn’t looked back since returning to the squad.”

As PNE prepare to face Swindon in their penultimate game, boss Simon Grayson thinks the mix of experience and younger faces in the squad can be a successful combination.

Should North End beat the Robins and MK Dons lose to Rochdale at Spotland, PNE would be promoted.

Any other outcome will take things to the final day of the season a week tomorrow.

Said Grayson: “Any experience which you have in the dressing room can help.

“That experience can be used well, maybe a quiet word here and there to settle others down. Saying that, the younger ones might play without fear in these situations, which can be of benefit too.

“Sometimes experienced players can think a little too deeply but the younger lads play without fear and with a freedom.

“It is good to have a combination of both and hopefully that will help us to get to where we want to be.”

Grayson says he will try and draw on his experience of previous promotions as a manager, the one he achieved with Leeds five years ago a rather fraught one.

“Leeds needed to win on the final day and were down to 10 men and a goal behind,” said the Preston boss.

“Eventually they won 2-1 but it was a tough afternoon to say the least! I wouldn’t really want to go down that line.”