Bolton Wanderers claimed their first win of the season on Tuesday night, winning 2-0 away at Bristol Rovers.
It’s been a torrid time for Bolton fans, but they finally had something to shout about in the West Country. Luke Murphy and Daryl Murphy were on the scoresheet last night, handing Keith Hill his first win.
Bolton still sit bottom of League One on minus five points, but that first win will breed new life into the Trotters.
One of Hill’s big decisions last night actually involved Preston loanee Josh Earl. The left back had been ruled out with injury since the first day of the season, but returned against Rovers.
Yet with Adam Chicksen impressing at left back, Earl was tested in an unfamiliar role; centre back. Initially a winger at North End, Earl moved back to left back under Alex Neil, and has now been kicked inside with Bolton.
The 20-year-old certainly has the size for the role, standing at 6ft 4in tall. However, Earl often looked naive defensively at Preston, and that was part of the reason he was sent out on loan.
Finally making his second appearance for Bolton, Earl was thrust into that new role. North End will therefore be delighted to hear that the youngster equipped himself very well.
Lion of Vienna Suite gave Earl a 7 out of 10 in their player ratings, suggesting that whilst he had a shaky start, he looked very comfortable by the end. That initial unease is to be expected after a couple of months out and coming into a new role.
Fans also took to Twitter to praise Earl, calling him ‘incredible’ and ‘immense’, marvelling at just how good he was, with one fan believing he’s more of a centre back than a left back.
How good was Josh Earl tonight though. Not played for 2 months, comes back in and heads away 17 balls, 64 bricks and 8 little kids #bwfc
— Joe Oldfield (@joeoldfield2000) October 22, 2019
Josh Earl was also incredible today 🔥 #bwfc
— . (@BWFCK0) October 22, 2019
@MarcIles been watching on ifollow and think Earl has been immense at CB considering.
— Jason (@BwfcJason) October 22, 2019
Totally agree earl was class we have missed someone like him for sure
— Luke (@LukepwLuke) October 22, 2019
Played as CB, made a huge difference. Kept the team as a unit, controls the game really well. Defo not a left back, much better as a CB.
— 🇫🇮 (@CIinicalChris) October 23, 2019
This may well be very interesting to North End, given the future of Ben Davies. The 24-year-old is attracting major interest, and is likely to go in 2020 unless Preston win promotion.
Alex Neil has loved the balance Davies brings as a left-footed centre back, and if Earl can grow as a centre back, he could fit into that role – either as cover for Davies or as his successor.
Preston’s interest in signing Max Lowe over the summer did raise this issue. Andrew Hughes is North End’s main left back, so targeting another one permanently was a surprise, unless one of Earl or Hughes were moving to centre back. Earl’s time with Bolton may be spent there, which is a fascinating situation.
Of course, there’s a long way to go for Earl. This is just one game, and Bristol Rovers were without star striker Jonson Clarke-Harris. It’s encouraging though, and something to think about for the future.