Alex Neil frustrated by hitch in his plans for Preston North End left-back Josh Earl

Josh Earl has been dealt a blow by injury while on loan at Bolton
Josh Earl has been dealt a blow by injury while on loan at Bolton

Alex Neil has explained the reason he let Josh Earl go out on loan was to try and avoid the repeat of the ‘stop-start’ season the Preston left-back had last season.

Unluckily, Earl has already seen his campaign put on hold for up to 12 weeks by an ankle injury suffered early on in his debut for Bolton Wanderers.

The 20-year-old started only 12 Championship games last season, playing second fiddle to Andrew Hughes.

With Hughes being Neil’s first-choice left-back, the North End boss felt this was the right time to loan Earl out for more experience.

Neil said: “It’s bad luck what has happened with Josh.

“One thing I didn’t want to do is keep Josh in the building and stall his progress.

“Last season was probably a frustrating one for him.

“We brought him into the team and he played maybe six or seven games when Hughesy had an injury.

“Josh got more matches towards the end of the season when Hughesy got injured again.

“I think for him to progress he now needs to play regular football.

“What I didn’t want was another stop-start season for him and at the moment I see Hughesy as my No.1 left-back.

“That is why I let Josh go to Bolton and unfortunately he is injured, I think he is going to be eight to 12 weeks.

“It’s a significant injury, it was a contact injury, which you can’t do much about – it’s not as if it’s a soft tissue one.

“The lad has gone into the back of Josh and that damaged his ankle ligaments.

“Josh would have been good for Bolton this year and he needs a quick recovery.”

Earl leaving on loan last week left the Lilywhites with Hughes as their one natural left-back.

It was assumed that cover for Hughes would have been sought in the transfer market and indeed a bid went in for Derby’s Max Lowe.

That was rejected and the transfer deadline came and went without PNE bringing in a left-back.

Instead, they are going to rely on cover from the other side of the pitch.

Neil said: “We have got Joe Rafferty and Darnell Fisher who have played at left-back numerous times during their careers.

“If one of them goes across we have Tom Clarke at right-back – we’ve got bodies there.”

The right-to-left cover was tried in the final four games of last season when a hamstring tear ruled Hughes out.

Earl replaced Hughes for four matches, then Fisher moved over to left-back for the games against Ipswich, Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday and Brentford.

Rafferty played at left-back in the midweek training ground game against Salford City.