PNE ace going back to his roots
Re-charged Joe Garner will be champing at the bit for a return to action when Preston make the short trip to Blackburn.
It is almost a month since the striker last pulled on the boots, a two-match suspension coupled with the international break the cause of his inactivity.
Garner could not ask for a better game to come back to – if selected – with opponents Rovers the club where he kicked off his career.
He joined them as a primary school kid, progressing through the ranks and eventually signing professional.
The search for first-team football took him away from Ewood Park and the Saturday lunchtime clash (12.30pm) will be his first visit as a player.
Garner’s enforced inactivity leading up to the derby was a slightly frustrating one on his part, the 10th yellow card which triggered his ban a harsh one to say the least.
A positive way to look at it is that the 27-year-old will be refreshed going into the last leg of the season.
North End coped without him, picking up four points while he watched from the sidelines.
Garner said: “The booking at Nottingham Forest was a little bit harsh – I’ve had a few harsh yellow cards this season.
“They are part and parcel of the game though, now I’m just happy to be back available and I’m looking forward to Saturday.
“We’ve got a few lads coming back for this one so the manager will have a few selection headaches.”
One particular selection issue might be who Simon Grayson chooses to play up front.
Garner looks likely to go straight back in but who will he have for company up front?
There is the mouth-watering possibility of him being reunited with the fit-again Jermaine Beckford.
Whether Beckford is risked from the start after a couple of bounce games, remains to be seen but the option is there.
Eoin Doyle has also pressed his claim with two goals after coming off the bench against Bolton and Queens Park Rangers.
Another possibility is Adam Reach playing off Garner, with Beckford and Doyle being kept in reserve on the bench until needed. Whether or not Beckford gets the nod, Garner is delighted to see his partner-in-goals from last season back in action.
The pair plundered 45 league and play-off goals between them to help North End to promotion last term.
“It is always nice to have a player of Jermaine’s talent and ability out there, helping us to try and pick up points,” said Garner.
“He was out for a long time and it is great to see him playing and training again.”
Saturday’s game is a battle of 14th-placed Rovers against a North End side who sit 10th.
Garner thinks PNE deserve a lot of credit for the way they have performed in their first season in the Championship, with safety effectively secured some weeks ago and the focus being on getting even higher up the table.
“We have done really well this season, picking up some big results away from home,” said Garner.
“The season was always going to be a lot different than last year, and we’ve started a lot of the games as the underdog.
“We set off at the start of the season looking to stay in the division, first and foremost.
“That has been achieved so we are nice and confident going into the Blackburn game.
“When you see where we are in the league at the moment, there are some big clubs below us and well below us.
“We have done really well and we want to push on further this season.”
Garner scored in the reverse fixture with Rovers at Deepdale in November, that goal getting him off the mark for the season.
Unfortunately, it proved only a consolation with the visitors winning 2-1.
Hence there will be an element of revenge on PNE’s mind when they head for East Lancashire.
Said Garner: “It was a tight game at Deepdale, just like a lot of them in the Championship.
“A lot of games at this level tend to rest on how well you have set up as a team.”
Garner will have friends on both sides of the divide at Ewood Park this weekend.
The front man said: “Having been at Blackburn for about 10 years, I have friends there. It is a game which we looked out for when the fixtures came out in the summer.
“I have never actually played there since I left – I’ve played against them here and for Forest but never at Ewood Park.
“A few of the medical staff are still there but obviously the players have changed.
“I do know a few of their lads from other clubs, I played with Danny Graham when I was at Carlisle.
“Rob Kelly was my youth-team manager at Blackburn and has since gone back there with the new manager.
“It will be a good atmosphere – we are taking 7,000 supporters who will make a lot of noise.
“No doubt the game will be a bit feisty – I’ve yet to play in a derby game which isn’t.
“We have had wins away at Burnley and Bolton this season, so hopefully we can do that against Blackburn.”