Josh Earl targets many more Preston North End games after reaching his half century of appearances
Josh Earl was pleased to have reached the 50-game mark for Preston North End but is kicking himself that he didn’t mark the occasion with a goal.
The half-century came up against Birmingham City last Saturday, the milestone four years in the making.
Earl’s debut was in 2017 but loan spells, injuries and just not being picked had slowed getting to 50 games in PNE colours.
He has played the last seven Championship games and an eighth start is set to come against Stoke City at Deepdale on Tuesday night (7.45pm).
Just nine minutes into the Birmingham game, a chance presented itself for Earl to score his first senior goal.
He saw his shot pushed behind by the Blues’ keeper and in hindsight would have aimed for the far corner rather than going back across the keeper.
Earl had linked up with Emil Riis in the build-up to the chance, using his height to make things happen.
“With my size I can be an out-ball for the team and I won the flick-on from a ball out from the back,” said Earl as he reflected on events at St Andrew’s.
“Emil’s big strength is running behind, he met my flick and put the ball back inside for me. All I needed to do was put the ball in the net.
“On another day I would have gone across the keeper and I should have done that.
“I was a bit of a rabbit caught in the headlights at the time so maybe I need to do more shooting practice after training.
“It was a good save from the keeper to be honest but I should have scored.”
Earl forced his way back into the North End team for the Huddersfield game in the middle of August.
That was his first slice of PNE competitive action since January, having spent the second half of last season on loan at Burton Albion.
He enjoys the wing-back role in a 3-5-2 system and Earl allows himself a smile when thinking back to his days in the youth team playing down that side of the pitch.
Said Earl: “Playing higher up the pitch when I was younger has helped when it comes to the wing-back role. I speak with Andy Fensome and Nick Harrison who are the Under-18s coaches and they’ll remind me that I told them I didn’t want to play at left-back or on the left wing when I was at the academy.
“We have a laugh about it because they are the positions I’ve played in the first-team here and the experience in the Under-18s helped so much.
“I think at the time I either wanted to play in midfield or as a centre-half. That is why I’m not a coach!”
Getting the balance right in the wing-back roles has been key for Frankie McAvoy in getting North End going into the right direction after the season started with three defeats in the league.
Earl feels at home on the left side, with Sepp van den Berg doing well on the right.
“I’m enjoying the role, it really suits me in that I can get forward and also help out defensively,” said Earl.
“It’s a more advanced role in terms of getting up the pitch and now I need to start helping the team with goals and assists.
“Frankie has given me a lot of freedom in my game, playing as a wing-back rather than a left-back has almost taken a bit of pressure off.”
Earl, 22, is philosophical about the length of time he took to get to 50 games.
He broke into the team as a teenager in the opening weeks of Alex Neil’s reign at Deepdale.
At the rate he started, it is a surprise that the pace slowed so much in terms of a half-century of games.
Earl said: “I played quite a lot of games when I was younger, I got a decent run in the team.
“Injuries set me back a bit, I had three spells out on loan.
“Hopefully I can play the next 50 games a lot quicker than the four years it took for the first 50.
“It is a cut-throat industry at times, one manager might not like you as much as another one does, or you might not play as well for a manager as you do for another.
“That is part of life and you have to accept it, work hard for when a chance comes.
“I’ve been given a chance at the moment and I’m determined to take it.”
PNE have spent much of September on the road in terms of the Championship, with three of their four matches to date being away.
The balance is redressed slightly by Stoke’s visit but then North End head into October with a trip to QPR on Saturday.
It is four draws on the spin for PNE in the league, the aim to gather all three points against the Potters.
“We’ve had tough away games – Bristol City, Sheffield United and Birmingham,” said Earl.
“West Bromwich were tough here so now we’ve got to try to get three points against Stoke."
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