Preston North End academy product Ethan Walker joins Championship rivals Blackburn Rovers on free transfer

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Preston North End fans may be thinking ‘here we go again’ as academy product Ethan Walker has joined Blackburn Rovers U23s.

Walker’s contract at PNE expired this summer but he has wasted no time in finding himself a new home.

He made two appearances in his time at Deepdale and was the youngest to ever play for the Lilywhites when he made his debut as a substitute against Aston Villa in December 2018.

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Since then he has found game time extremely limited, with 10 minutes in a 4-0 win over Bradford City his only other time in a North End shirt.

Ethan Walker warming up prior to his PNE debut against Aston Villa.Ethan Walker warming up prior to his PNE debut against Aston Villa.
Ethan Walker warming up prior to his PNE debut against Aston Villa.

His best season to date was the 2020/21 season where he spent time out on loan with Carlisle United. Despite some injury troubles the Cumbrians kept faith in the young winger and he finished the season having played 17 times.

Most recently he has spent time on loan at AFC Fylde, though then manager Jim Bentley did not take to the young forward.

The highlight of the past 12 months for the 19-year-old was a stunning solo goal scored for PNE’s reserves against Fleetwood Town, winning the game 3-2.

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The reserves have been the main source of game time for Walker, whether under Frankie McAvoy or Ryan Lowe, but he never seemed to be troubling the first team squad.

Instead he seemed to be usurped by Mikey O’Neill who went on to play twice before the end of the campaign.

A hot prospect as he came up through the youth system, Walker had been with the club since U9 level and was twice top scorer for the youth team before turning pro.

Comparisons will certainly be made between this move of Walker’s, to Blackburn, and that of Tyrhys Dolan who did likewise.

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Dolan was too released by PNE and was not offered a new contract to stay at the club. Instead, he signed for Blackburn to play in their U23s but caught the eye and was soon promoted to Tony Mowbray’s first team squad.

Since then he has gone from strength to strength, scoring against PNE and now wearing Rovers’ no.10 shirt.

His case has often been the warning for North End should they get decisions wrong on youth players, though Dolan had never made a first team appearance before his departure.