Dave Seddon's PNE pressview: Shift on the left at Deepdale

There has been a shift on Preston's left over recent weeks and we are not talking Labour party politics at the Town Hall.

Saturday, 30th June 2018, 12:22 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th July 2018, 6:16 pm
Josh Earl

I refer to the left-back role at North End, the battle for which will be of huge interest to supporters in the build-up to the new season.

Greg Cunningham filled the position for three years, bar enforced absences due to injury and suspension.

The Irishman is now a Cardiff player and awaiting a Premier League adventure in South Wales.

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With Tommy Spurr gone to Fleetwood Town and Kevin O’Connor on the list of players to move out – on loan by the looks of it – the left side of the defence is an area being given a summer makeover.

Josh Earl and Andrew Hughes will battle it out for the left-back berth.

It’s a big battle when you consider the height of the pair – Earl stands 6ft 4in and Hughes 6ft 2in.

Both will look to press their claim in pre-season ahead of the August 4 start against QPR.

Earl has been given the No.3 squad number, one which Cunningham vacated.

It should probably not be read as an indicator as to who starts and who doesn’t, but what a boost for the lad on his return from the summer break.

Twelve months ago, Earl was just starting out in the professional game.

His first senior contract was freshly signed and he probably envisaged his first season as a pro being on loan elsewhere.

An impressive pre-season caught Alex Neil’s eye, that enough to keep him around the squad for that bit longer rather than be loaned out straight away.

Timing is everything and it is a good job such a stance was taken in light of the bad injury Cunningham suffered early in the season.

Neil identified Earl as the ready-made replacement and in he went for his debut against Reading.

Only a knee injury which came at a time when Preston defenders were falling like nine pins, brought a 12-game run to an abrupt halt.

Earl came back towards the end of January and got a few more games under his belt as the understudy to Cunningham.

His competition now comes in the form of Hughes who arrived last week from Peterborough.

Older than Earl at 26 and with more than 200 games under his belt, Hughes is the senior figure.

But he is yet to play in the Championship, his games having come in League One at Peterborough and with Newport in League Two and the National League.

If Earl’s development can continue in the way it did last season, he has a bright future ahead of him.

Likewise, should Hughes take to the Championship like he did with League One at Peterborough, he will prove a strong addition.

Hughes can also operate as a centre-half which may come in useful.

Spurr, who departed for Fleetwood during the week, offered similar versatility.

While we saw more of him as a left-back than at the heart of the defence, Spurr’s preference was to play in the middle.

He looked assured there at the start of last season when starting as first choice next to Paul Huntington.

Perhaps Spurr doesn’t have the pace needed to play regularly at left-back.

But at centre-half in those opening games – he played four of the first six in the league last term – he was solid and strong.

Spurr is probably a player who in an ideal world, North End wouldn’t have minded keeping about.

But after only featuring in five games last term – partly due to a four-month lay-off with a knee injury – Spurr was naturally keen to get out and play regularly.

It is a season’s loan for him at Fleetwood which covers the remaining 12 months of his Preston contract.

So we can assume that it is as good as a permanent move.

I always found Spurr a good sort, a player willing to stop and have a chat whether in an interview situation or passing the time of day.

While Spurr was getting his first whiff of cod over on the coast, his former PNE team-mates were getting down to work at Springfields after the holidays.

Pre-season training has changed down the years in line with the development of fitness, strength and diet in football.

In a bygone era, the first few weeks of pre-season were just about running the excess weight off.

Then there was just enough time to fit in a few friendly games to work on the football side of things.

Rarely do players come back overweight and out of condition.

The Lilywhites’ return to pre-season training on Thursday morning was much less dramatic than a year ago when they lost their manager!

The players didn’t get as far as putting their boots on before they were attending a meeting to inform them that Simon Grayson was on his way up the A1 to Sunderland.

Within a few days, Alex Neil was in post and getting his teeth into the job, one he went on to do impressively.

No such drama this time, new squad numbers the one thing to get tongues wagging on the first day.