Preston North End's Josh Earl delighted to have made his first Championship start for 20 months

It has not been the greatest few days for Preston North End but one player with a reason to be more positive than others was Josh Earl.

By Dave Seddon
Thursday, 17th December 2020, 4:45 pm

For the first time in 20 months, the defender was handed a start in the PNE side for a league game.

That is a lengthy gap between starts, mitigated somewhat by the fact he spent the whole of last season out on loan.

Still, though, Earl has had to show plenty of patience waiting for his chance to come.

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Preston North End's Josh Earl in action against Barnsley at Oakwell

Before running out at Oakwell, he had to go back to April 13, 2019 for his last Championship start.

That was against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns on Gentry Day, an occasion ruined by the speculation linking PNE boss Alex Neil with the Baggies’ head coach role.

It seems an awful long time ago, with much water having passed under the bridge since then.

Earl spent the first half of last season on loan with Bolton Wanderers, the second half at Ipswich.

Ankle surgery meant he was sidelined for part of the Bolton loan, then Covid-19’s arrival and the lockdown curtailed his time at Ipswich.

Maybe it is not so much about looking to make up for lost time now that Earl has come into the plans at Deepdale, more a case of him trying to establish a foothold in Neil’s plans.

Earl said: “It was a long time between league starts for Preston but I did spend all of last season out on loan.

“To start at Barnsley felt really good because I hadn’t played for a while.

“I was quite pleased with my performance as well, it was just a shame about the result.

“Hopefully we can go again on Friday night against Bristol City and put things right.”

Earl, 22, played at left wing-back in the 2-1 defeat at Oakwell as Neil switched to a 3-5-2 system.

With Andrew Hughes playing more centrally in the back three, Earl was needed to provide the width on the left.

He had a decent game and in the second half had two shots at goal in the space of a few moments.

Having been back on the bench for the last few games, which included a 15-minute run-out against Middlesbrough, did Earl think he’d play in midweek?

“When we were told we would play a back three, I thought I might be in with a sniff,” said Earl.

“Last season at Ipswich I played on the left side of a back three.

“As it was, I was played at left wing-back and I was just happy to be out there on the pitch.

“I enjoyed it, I thought it suited me quite well with the way we played it.

“It was a good position for me, it allowed me to get forward and have a bit less defensive responsibility than if I play at left-back or left side of a three.

“I did get a chance to score in the second half, I was in nosebleed territory getting that far forward!

“I should have done a bit better with it, if that had come to me in training I’d have found the back of the net.”

It was in September 2017 that Earl broke into the North End team.

He played 20 games that season and 16 the next, PNE then thinking a season of regular football out of loan would be of benefit to him.

At Bolton, Earl suffered ankle ligament damage on his debut, an injury which required surgery.

That limited him to 10 starts with them, Earl then joining Ipswich in January.

That spell too was a bit of a painful one, with the defender getting a facial injury which required him to wear a protective mask for a time.

He managed seven appearances before the League One season was curtailed.

Returning to PNE in the close season, Earl signed a new three-year contract and now hopes to have a more regular involvement at first-team level,

Said Earl: “I was 18 when I first broke through here. I played a lot of games that season which was really good for me.

“In this game people do pick up injuries but I seem to have had my fair share in a short career.

“That’s behind me and I want kick on.”

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