Layton Stewart opens up on Liverpool exit, Preston North End progress and January loan talks

The PNE summer signing - from Liverpool - spoke to the media for the first time this week
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Layton Stewart had wheeled away prematurely at Plymouth Argyle, but a first goal in Preston North End colours can't be too far away. Both he, and the Deepdale faithful, have had to wait patiently for the number 21 to get minutes on the pitch. Stewart didn't head into the international break with goal number one ticked off, but 71 minutes in the tank was a big boost - as well as his performance on the day. He can still see that crisp strike cannoning off the post now, though.

"I watched the video back, just after," said Stewart. "I'd gone to celebrate before I'd even shot. I was gutted for myself, but obviously the fans were there as well and I knew it was a long journey - if I could've sent them home with a goal, it would've been unbelievable. I have always been confident, in front of goal - I back myself to score really. It's just getting the right chances. I thought Plymouth was the right chance, but I think I hit it too well... I needed one of those scruffy ones to go in the corner, but hopefully it will come sooner rather than later."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Manager Ryan Lowe jumped at the chance to sign Stewart on a three-year deal last summer, but has repeatedly labelled the striker a 'project' for PNE. It has been a season of learning, developing and growing for the ex-Liverpool man - he has taken it all in his stride. From extra shooting sessions with assistant boss, Mike Marsh, after training, to picking the brains of experienced heads within the squad - Stewart now feels a far better centre-forward, overall.

"I think, coming here, it was more the physical side, holding the ball up and linking play," said Stewart. "That was something I wanted to work on, massively. And the staff have helped me with that. Being in front of goal and the finishing side, I have always been confident. I knew it was going to be tough and I never underestimated it. But, it was a lot tougher and when I came in, I was obviously a lot skinnier and less of a man than I am now.

"I feel like I have matured in my body and got bigger and stronger. We've obviously got nine games to go and I want to try and get my first goal for the club - obviously my first professional goal, too. But yeah, I think this season was more about coming in, being around it, getting used to it, trying to get chances and taking those chances. But yeah, I think next season, hopefully I can get a few starts under my belt and impress even more.

"I knew Leddo and Pottsy before coming here, so that was a helping hand and they were brilliant when I first came in. I did a bit of stuff with them in the summer. Whitey as well, but all of them have been really good. Greg, Skip and Dai Cornell, when I first came here and it was quite hard for me, they've been around it for longer than me. And when I needed that arm around me, someone to pick me up and tell me to keep going, they were massive for me."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Stewart had been at Liverpool - his boyhood club - since the age of five. But when PNE came calling, the striker knew it was a chance he had to jump at. Going from development squad football to a Championship environment was somewhat of a culture shock, but the high stakes and buzz of every single match day are things Stewart thrives off. And ever since signing, he has tried to immerse himself into his new home - which is why supporters may have spotted him in the away end at Stamford Bridge, in January.

"It was a lot different, because I was in the 23s' dressing room," he said. "I would walk over to the first team; now I am in a senior dressing room, with senior lads. In the 23s, you are fighting for points - but it's not like a Saturday or Tuesday here. You are really fighting for points, every game means something and you've got big crowds coming to watch - who you want to send home happy. That was more of an eye opener. I didn't know I was coming here, until the last minute.

"It literally all happened within the space of two days and was quite fast. The turnover of them speaking to Liverpool and me being here, the next day, getting a medical - I didn't really have time to process it, but I'm made up I'm here and want to do the best I can for Preston. When you are at a club, I think you've got to buy into the club like that. It was a big game for the lads (at Chelsea) and thought I might as well go down and join in with the crowd. They were unbelievable."

Back in January, there was talk of Stewart potentially heading out on loan to League One - amid interest from a handful of clubs. But, with Ched Evans sidelined, North End opted against seeking a temporary move for their summer recruit. That is a decision Stewart looks back on positively, given the progress made and opportunity he now has over the next six weeks.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Yeah, I think it was in the back of my mind because I wanted to play," said Stewart. "I am still young and coming here, I always knew it would be difficult to play. But, I always wanted to try and get my chance and prove myself at this level. Come January, I thought a loan could've been a good option, but we sat down and decided it was the right thing to stay. I always want to play first team, so I think, personally, getting the chance here and being around the lads was better than going out on loan in my first season. It was important for me to stay in January."

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.