PNE duo could ease defensive crisis

PNE left-back Josh Earl is reportedly interesting Everton
PNE left-back Josh Earl is reportedly interesting Everton

Josh Earl and Calum Woods could ease Preston’s selection problems by returning from injury after the international break.

The pair both hobbled off at half-time of last week’s home defeat to Aston Villa with medial ligament injuries.

They missed Saturday’s trip to Ipswich but have a chance of being back to face Bolton on November 17.

When Earl and Woods went off against Villa, they added their names to a long list of PNE defenders who were sidelined by injury, illness and suspension.

North End manager Alex Neil said: “Josh and Calum have grade 1 injuries.

“Fingers crossed, they might be in contention to come back for Bolton.

“But that is the best- case scenario.”

Woods injured his right knee after 35 minutes of the Villa game but battled through to half-time.

There was concern over him, Woods having returned to action earlier in the season after a year out with an injury to the same knee.

Earl’s injury came on the stroke of half-time, with the teenager having to be helped from the pitch. It ended a 12-match run in the team since replacing Greg 
Cunningham in August.

The 19-year-old was linked with Everton in a national newspaper over the weekend.

Steve Walsh, the Toffees’ director of football, is said to have watched Southport-born Earl in action quite recently.

Everton’s academy scout Jamie Hoyland has also run the rule over him this term.

It is just speculation at this stage, North End having had no contact from Everton.

Earl signed a new three-year contract with Preston in September.

That deal replaced the one he was given when signing pro in the summer.

In the absence of Earl at Ipswich on Saturday, Kevin O’Connor got the nod at left-back.

It was the Irishman’s first Championship start following his July arrival from Cork City.

Although O’Connor looked lively going forward in the Portman Road clash, he was caught out of position upfield for Ipswich’s third goal.

Woods had been filling in at centre-back when he got his injury, covering the absences of Ben Davies, Tommy Spurr and, against Villa, skipper Paul Huntington.

Davies has missed the last three games after having his appendix removed, while Spurr is out for up to four months following surgery to repair a torn medial ligament.