Defender Josh Earl has big potential says Preston North End boss

Alex Neil admits it has been difficult for Josh Earl to ‘hit the ground running’ when he has been in the Preston team this season.

The left-back’s appearance at Ipswich last week was only his third of the campaign in the Championship.

North End defender Josh Earl

North End defender Josh Earl

Earl played twice in the League Cup too but Andrew Hughes has, in the main, got the nod on the left-hand side of North End’s defence.

Injury ruled Hughes out of the Ipswich match but he is set to be back in contention against Bristol City today.

PNE boss Neil said: “Josh has been champing at the bit to get his chance.

“He came in for a couple of games earlier on in the season.

“The difficulty we have got with Josh is that we need to get him up to speed and get him minutes.

“It is difficult in terms of coming straight into the team and expecting him to hit the ground running, particularly away from home.

“We have yet to see the best of Josh this season.

“Josh just needs to make sure that when he comes in he uses the qualities we know that he has got.

“At Ipswich I didn’t think he got forward enough which is probably his biggest strength.

“But he is still learning his trade. Josh is a young lad and I think he has huge potential.

“We are all hoping, as I’m sure he is, that he realises that potential.”

Earl, 20 got his first-team chance early last season when Greg Cunningham suffered a serious hamstring injury.

He had come through the club’s academy and had only recently signed his first pro contract when Neil pitched him into senior action.

Earl had a run of 12 starts, a sequence only brought to a halt by the need for him to have knee surgery. When the Southport-born defender returned, he made a further eight appearances.

Earlier this season Earl played against Reading and Leeds in the league.

Said Neil: “When Josh came in last season, he got better with the more games he played and the experience which he gained.

“It is the same with all young players, you have to get the balance right.”

Neil explained that it was a combination of injuries which ruled Hughes out at Ipswich and handed a chance to Earl.

With summer signing Hughes having been back in training this week, it leaves Neil with a decision of who plays at Ashton Gate.

Neil said: “Hughesy has been carrying shin splints for a little while, sometimes that gets a little bit worse.

“The problem he also had for Ipswich was that he woke up with a stiff back.

“Now we need to assess who plays the Bristol City game.”