Josh Earl could return to PNE squad this weekend

Josh Earl is nearing a return to the PNE squad after knee surgery
Josh Earl is nearing a return to the PNE squad after knee surgery

Josh Earl is nearing a return to the Preston squad after more than two months out injured.

The teenage defender is back in training and could even be ready for Saturday’s home clash with Birmingham.

Earl suffered a knee injury in the defeat to Aston Villa at the beginning of November, straining his medial ligament and damaging the cartilage.

He eventually had surgery to repair the cartilage, a spell of rest having failed to see the knee settle down.

North End boss Alex Neil said: “Josh has been training this week and hopefully he will be fit and available for the weekend.”

Earl, 19, made his debut in August after injury sidelined Greg Cunningham.

The left-back played 12 games in a row before being injured against Villa.

Over the last few weeks, Cunningham has returned to action and with Kevin O’Connor also available, it is a position which suddenly had plenty of cover.

Neil expects centre-half Paul Huntington to return on Saturday after a hamstring tweak kept him out of last week’s 1-1 draw at Millwall.

Darnell Fisher is close to recovering from a hip injury, while Tommy Spurr is well down the road in his rehab work after knee surgery.

Said Neil: “Darnell should not be long now, I’m hoping he should be back very quickly.

“Calum Woods isn’t going to be too long, he’s been running on the grass this week which is a good sign.

“Paul Huntington should be available for the weekend, that would allow Tom Clarke if needs be to go to right-back.

“The full-back positions have been a real issue for us this season.

“At left-back, Greg started the season and got a long-term injury.

“Josh who took his place then got an injury which was quite long-term.

“On the other side of the pitch, Darnell and Calum have been injured, while Tom has come back from a long-term injury.

“In football, injuries are part and parcel of the game but they do seem to have hit us hard in one area.”

Spurr is another defender to have been injured this term.

In September he tore the medial ligament in his left knee during a bounce game against Oldham at the training ground and needed surgery.

“Tommy has been running on the grass,” said Neil.

“He’s been getting a little bit of nerve pain but we are hoping that will settle down and allow him to ramp-up his rehab work.

“Like anyone who has been out for as a long as he has, Tommy will need a mini pre-season to get himself going.”

Sean Maguire is Preston’s other long-term casualty and is still a few weeks away from a return yet.