Preston boss Alex Neil relishing battle between Josh Earl and Andrew Hughes

Josh Earl will compete with Andrew Hughes for the left-back role at Preston
Josh Earl will compete with Andrew Hughes for the left-back role at Preston

Alex Neil is predicting a great battle for Preston’s left-back shirt between Josh Earl and Andrew Hughes.

With Greg Cunningham leaving for Cardiff City last month, the position is very much up for grabs.

Earl made 17 starts in the Championship last season as understudy to Cunningham.

The teenager grabbed his chance when Cunningham was injured last August.

Hughes arrived at PNE last month from Peterborough, one of five summer recruits made by the club.

North End manager Neil is happy to see the duo battle it out for the left-back role.

“We needed someone in a similar mould to Greg where they are quite experienced and a good solid option for us,” Neil told the Post.

“That is why we brought in Andrew Hughes, he knows what it is all about and wanted to test himself at this level.

“We know the potential that Josh Earl has but it would have been naive for me just to have kept him on his own.

“If he got injured like he did last year, that would leave us short.

“Also to push Josh’s career on and drive him on, there needs to be real competition for him.

“Andrew will certainly bring that, it will be a really good battle at left-back to see who is going to take that slot.”

Neil threw Earl in at the deep end when Cunningham suffered a serious hamstring injury early last season.

Armed with only a loan spell at Lancaster City, Earl was handed his PNE debut in the 1-0 win over Reading.

The teenager made 12 league starts on the bounce before a knee injury ruled him out for a couple of months.

Cunningham was back by the time Earl returned but the Southport-born player was still a regular in the squad. In terms of experience at first-team level, Hughes comes with more than 200 appearances.

But he has yet to play in the Championship, this the next step in a career which has seen him turn out in League One, League Two and the National League.

Hughes is likely to pull on a North End shirt for the first time in Saturday’s friendly with Bamber Bridge.

Neil will look to give most of the squad a run at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium, and he is set to field a different XI in each half.

The game has been given a new 12.30pm kick-off which will enable fans to then watch England’s World Cup quarter-final clash with Sweden which starts at 3pm.

A 1pm start was the initial plan once England reached the last eight with victory over Colombia on Tuesday night.

But the clubs then agreed the earlier start, meaning the game should finish around 2.15pm.