Defender Josh Earl aiming to go one better than last season with Preston North End
Josh Earl might only be in his second campaign as a professional footballer but Preston’s push to try and make the play-offs is not a new experience for him.
In his breakthrough season last year, he was part of the squad which came within one place and two points of making the Championship’s top six.
As North End aim to go one better this time, Earl finds himself with a big part to play.
With Andrew Hughes ruled out for the season with a hamstring injury, this is an opportunity for the academy graduate to nail down the left-back spot for himself.
Partly because of the good form of Hughes and partly due to injury, Earl has not had as great a look-in this term as he would have liked.
Last week’s defeat at Reading was just his 11th start of the season and a 13th appearance overall.
However, there are no complaints from Earl as he looks to learn from every experience thrown his way.
These are early days in his career, every game and every training session an opportunity to develop his knowledge.
“These last two seasons have been really exciting,” said Earl.
“Last year we got close to the play-offs and we are pushing again this time.
“Personally, my season has been a bit mixed, I’ve had a couple of injuries which have slowed down my progress a bit.
“But I’ve still enjoyed it and it’s exciting that we are pushing for the play-offs again.
“There is so much to play for yet and I think in a situation like this when there is something at stake, you learn more.
“It is not as if we are in mid-table doing nothing, we are pushing to get into the top six and one day be a Premier League side. In games like the ones we have coming up, I will learn so much. “
The games which Earl references come against Sheffield United, Leeds and West Bromwich.
All three are in the top four, with the Blades and Leeds – who make the trip across the Pennines on Saturday and Tuesday respectively – gunning for automatic promotion.
With North End just three points outside of the play-offs with seven games to go, there is plenty at stake.
Two years ago, Earl was on loan at Lancaster City, learning his trade.
His spell with the Dolly Blues was productive, with them winning the NPL First Division North title.
Early last season, soon after signing his first pro contract, Earl was handed his opportunity in the PNE team when injury ruled out Greg Cunningham.
He got 20 appearances under his belt, either side of having knee surgery.
When Cunningham left to join Cardiff City last summer, Hughes came in to challenge Earl for the left-back shirt.
Hughes had the lion’s share of games but the chance is there now for Earl to catch the eye.
Having been at North End since the age of nine, Southport-born Earl feels a close affinity with the club – hence a real keenness to impress.
“Coming through the academy and going on to play in the first team has been really nice,” said Earl.
“I think when someone comes through like, it can give a boost to the lads in the academy and show what can be done.
“My little brother is in the academy and it would be brilliant if he made it through too.
“I joined our academy when I was nine and back then I never thought that one day I’d be playing in the first team.”