PNE ace has his eye on hat-trick

Garner celebrates his late goal against Notts County in August
Garner celebrates his late goal against Notts County in August
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Preston North End front man Joe Garner is targeting a promotion medal to add to his two Football League Awards honours.

The 27-year-old was named League One’s player of the year at the London ceremony and won the goal of the year accolade.

Garner gave the awards a miss in order to focus on Tuesday night’s visit to Notts County – PNE chief executive John Kay collected the awards of his behalf – knowing that three points at Meadow Lane would push them closer to automatic promotion.

Victories in their remaining three games against County, Swindon and Colchester would send North End back to the Championship.

Anything less and they will be relying on a slip by MK Dons, who have closed to within a point of them.

Garner’s superb volley in the play-offs against Rotherham last May landed him the goal of the year gong.

It was able to be included in the voting as it was scored after last year’s awards.

His 22 goals this season saw him get player of the year, his haul coming despite a 10-week injury absence.

The award was voted for by the 24 managers in League One, the bosses not allowed to pick one of their own players.

“I’m very proud to get these accolades – it is nice for myself and my family,” said Garner when he was presented with the trophies at Springfields on Monday morning.

“Now we need to try and get promotion – that is what we all want here.

“I had a spell out injured during the season but I came back as quickly as I could and managed to carry on where I had left off.

“Long may that continue and hopefully there are a few more goals to come yet.

“To get the goal of the season award was pleasing – it is nice to score any goal but getting one like that was very special for myself.

“For the player of the year I was up against two really good players – Dele Alli and Luke Freeman – who have both had great seasons.

“Helping the club out of this division and into the Championship is now the target.”

Three draws on the bounce for North End mean MK Dons are now breathing down their necks.

Staying in second place is still in their own hands though, the task straightforward in terms of what results are required.

Better or match MK’s results in the last three games and the Lilywhites go up.

Talking about it is the easy bit. Doing it on the pitch is what counts between now and May 3.

Said Garner: “We have three massive games coming up and we know what needs to be done in order to achieve what we want.

“We are confident we can do it. We have been playing quite well but have conceded some sloppy goals.

“Our general play has been good and it is about turning the draws into wins.

“We are a good side and are up there for a reason – we are top of our mini league.

“At the moment we are a point ahead of MK Dons and if that is still the case on May 3 then everyone will be happy.

“There are a lot of lessons we can learn from the games where we dropped points.

“We have talked about it among ourselves in the dressing room and the gaffer has spoken to us about a few things since Friday.

“In our dressing room we have some experienced lads and we all realise that we have to manage games a bit better.

“Mistakes happen during a season and it is our job to keep them to a minimum.”

Garner’s 22nd goal of the campaign – his 21st in league action – came from the penalty spot in Friday night’s 2-2 draw at Port Vale.

He took over spot-kick duty from Paul Gallagher, the ball hitting the net, ending a run of five games without a goal.

Said Garner: “I’m always confident of scoring penalties.

“I told Gally I would take it if he wanted me to. I put it down the side of the keeper, which was good – I’d seen him go a little bit early and I knew the other side of the goal was open.”

Relegation-threatened Notts County provide the next test for Garner and his team-mates.

The Magpies were Preston’s opponents on the opening day of the season at Deepdale.

It needed a 90th-minute goal from Garner to earn a 1-1 draw that afternoon.

“That was a late one wasn’t it?” said Garner, as he cast his mind back to August 9.

“It got us a point and we played really well that day.

“Notts County are a side who are now battling against relegation.

“They will be working hard to try and stay in this league and have some experienced players in their squad.

“We are confident going down there and if we play like I know we can, we can bring back the three points.

“The gaffer will have us set up well. He is very experienced in this division and the players have a lot of trust in him.

“It’s been a tough season, we have worked very hard and now it is all coming down to the last three games.

“We will take it one game at a time and see where that takes us.”