As most of you Preston supporters will know, I am not the regular contributor to this column.
My musings only appear when my colleague – and chief PNE reporter – Dave Seddon is enjoying a well earned rest.
It’s not too often that I get to see Preston North End in action, but every so often I am afforded the opportunity to see the Lilywhites live.
It was during the early part of last season – while Mr Seddon was enjoying sunnier climes on holiday – that I managed to see Joe Garner in action for the very first time.
The date was Sunday, August 25, and the place was Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium where Preston were due to meet Coventry City.
At the time, it was North End’s fourth league game of the season, having drawn their opening three games against Wolves, Rotherham and MK Dons.
There had been the small matter of a victory over deadly rivals Blackpool in the Capital One Cup, which had given the fans something to cheer about.
But other than that, it had been a fairly inauspicious start in League One for Simon Grayson’s men
Garner had been left out of the starting XI for two out of the first three games of the campaign but had notched his first goal the previous match in the 2-2 draw against MK Dons at Deepdale.
He had retained his place in the team for the encounter against the Sky Blues for what was my ‘first game of the season’.
The fixture turned out to be an amazing – if crazy – affair with Coventry somehow snatching a 4-4 draw with virtually the last kick of the game, despite dominating the match from start to finish.
North End had managed to take the lead three times during the 90-plus minutes due to a combination of rank bad defending and clinical finishing – remember Bailey Wright’s worldy from 25 yards anyone? But, by and large, the visitors were given the runaround by City’s marauding forward line of ex-PNE loan man Leon Best, Callum Wilson and Franck Moussa.
The Sky Blues contrived to score only four times despite creating a hatful of chances.
I must admit to being hugely impressed with City’s strikers that day – and more than a little underwhelmed by Garner’s contribution.
In fact, he was substituted in the 82nd minute and his replacement Joel Byrom – a midfielder – went on to head North End level at 3-3, before Chris Humphrey looked to have won it in the last minute of the game.
Unfortunately, the visitors were unable to shut up shop and Mathieu Manset equalised to give City a more than deserved point.
It seems hard to believe now that in a game which contained eight goals – the name Joe Garner was nowhere to be seen on the scoresheet. In fact, I left Northampton that day thinking Grayson must address his striker talent pool if the team was going to be a success.
Perhaps Garner just had one of those days against Coventry but it’s interesting that for the next few games, he was back on the substitutes’ bench.
I think nobody – and I mean nobody – of a Preston persuasion would have envisaged that Garner would go on to become the main man of Grayson’s team.
His record since that game has been nothing short of phenomenal, with 35 goals plundered in 50-odd games.
It could be argued that he has now become a modern-day PNE legend. He is certainly a cult hero among the fans, especially as he is boyhood North Ender, who used to sit on the Town End.
So when news broke this week that Garner – who has scored 12 goals already this season – faced up to four months on the sidelines after suffering a serious knee injury on Saturday against Bristol City, the town was plunged into a period of mourning.
‘The season is over’ cried one fan!
‘We’ve no chance of promotion now’, said another.
Even the LEP got in on the act and ran a poll to see if the team ‘could cope’ without their star man.
It goes without saying that Garner is going to be a huge loss for North End over the coming months. Here is a player who is capable of sniffing a goal out of nothing.
And other teams – who feared Garner’s lethal touch in front of goal – will now gain confidence from the fact that they won’t have to face him.
The spotlight now turns to Jermaine Beckford, who has joined on loan from Bolton.
In the past, Beckford has proven to be just as polific at this level and if he can rediscover that ‘goalden’ touch, all may not be lost this season.