Garner has G-force!

Garner hit a hat-trick against Swindon in April
Garner hit a hat-trick against Swindon in April
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Joe Garner has had more than his fair share of attention in Preston’s build-up to the League One play-off final at Wembley this weekend.

That comes with the territory when you are the division’s leading scorer and part of a strikeforce which would not look out of place in the Championship.

He was in heavy demand at the club’s media day this week, the Press keen for him to share his views on Sunday’s meeting with Swindon Town and his form in general.

Now the interviews are done, Garner just wants to do his talking on the pitch.

Together with Jermaine Beckford, he will carry PNE’s main attacking threat as they seek the victory which would see them promoted.

Garner bagged a hat-trick the last time he faced the Robins, that meeting coming at Deepdale a month ago.

In November when North End played at the County Ground, Swindon’s defence snuffed him out as they ran out 1-0 winners.

Will those two games have any bearing on events at Wembley? Garner doubts it.

The 27-year-old said: “They made a lot of changes here at Deepdale, and when we played them away is quite a long while ago now.

“It’s come down to one big game and we’re obviously looking forward to it.

“It would be nice to repeat that home win.

“I scored a hat-trick against them at Deepdale and we won 3-0, so it was a nice day and hopefully we can do something similar at the weekend.

“Everybody knows how Swindon play.

“But they’ve got some very good players there.

“They’re quite an open side. They make the pitch very big and there’s obviously going to be spaces around.

“But we’ll respect them. We know they’re a good side. They beat us at their place and we respect them, but we’ll go into the game confident.

“They play some good football. Obviously they’ve had a good year.

“The manager’s got them playing in his own style and they’re a good side.”

If there has been more of a bargain signing than Garner in the lower divisions over the last couple of years, then he must be being hidden somewhere.

His 103 appearances – 83 starts and 20 games as a substitute – in the shirt of the club he supported as a lad, have produced 51 goals.

Garner was goalless in his first 17 appearances after arriving on a free transfer from Watford in January 2013.

His signing was designed to fill the gaps in the North End squad at the time caused by the departures of strikers Akpo Sodje, Lee Trundle and Anthony Elding.

Garner’s first goal was against MK Dons in August 2013.

It was another two months until he scored again but he has not stopped since.

Last season he netted 24 goals. This term Garner has bettered that with 27…so far.

Bear in mind too that he spent 10 weeks on the sidelines over the winter after a tendon detached itself from his shin bone.

Would he come back from surgery the same player? Fifteen goals since suggests that he has.

In the first half of this season until the injury, Garner did the job of leading Preston’s front line on his own.

More often than not, he played down the middle in a 4-3-3 system, supported by two wingers. The arrival of Beckford from Bolton in November was designed to keep him some company.

But Garner was hit by injury before they could pair up on the pitch and when he returned to action, Beckford was on the sick list.

The first time they actually got on the pitch together in a game was the 5-1 victory over Crewe in March.

They have started every game since, 11 of Garner’s goals coming when in tandem with Beckford.

It will be that front pairing which starts against Swindon at Wembley.

For Garner, this will be his first time treading the Wembley turf.

He went to the national stadium as a six-year-old for Preston’s Third Division play-off final against Wycombe.

But his involvement in the play-offs as a player have, until this year, always ended at the semi-final stage.

It is an experience which he cannot wait for.

“There have been so many big games at Wembley over the years, the World Cup, European finals, FA Cup finals,” said Garner. “So to be able to play there for Preston in this game will be a big moment in my career.”