Preston’s unbeaten run finally came to an end on Saturday, losing 2-1 away at Reading.

The streak had to end at some point, and having been built up for weeks, it was the most Preston defeat. A trip to a relegation-threatened Reading was seen as a potential win for North End, but we came home empty-handed instead.

First half goals from Yakou Meite and Mo Barrow did the damage, giving the Royals a 2-0 lead. Jayden Stockley grabbed a consolation late on for North End, but it was all too late.

Preston’s play-off push has now taken a major hit, and injuries are mounting once again. Alan Browne and Tom Barkhuizen missed out on Saturday, whilst more casualties were taken on Saturday. Brandon Barker went off injured, whilst Ben Pearson couldn’t last the 90 minutes either.

Andrew Hughes was arguably the biggest miss though, with the left back missing after an injury against Birmingham City. The Welshman may not return this season, and that leaves Josh Earl to start at left back.

The 20-year-old started at Reading, but it didn’t really go to plan. He was caught out at the back post for Meite’s opener, continuing a rather patchy season for the youngster.

Preston North End’s Josh Earl. (Photo by Andrew Kearns – CameraSport via Getty Images)

After bursting on the scene last season, Earl was touted as a future star. Yet his recent performances have left some concerned. From his red card against Swansea City, to being hauled off at half time against Middlesbrough, and now the showing at Reading.

Physically, Earl is fantastic at 6ft 3in whilst possessing great pace for his size. He’s technically decent too, but he still has a long way to go as a left back. He can be naive positionally and in the tackle, with some rookie mistakes still in his game.

Earl hasn’t developed as we’d all hoped so far, and at just 20, he’s far from a lost cause. There’s still a player there, but the next step will be absolutely key to his progression.

He looks likely to see out the season as Preston’s left back, with Hughes unavailable. It’s kind of a sink or swim situation here, and if Earl doesn’t step up, then it may be time to think about a loan move away.

Ben Davies – a fellow Preston youth graduate – had similar struggles before thriving on loan at Fleetwood Town. A similar move could really help Earl develop certain aspects of his game and come back stronger, as it would be a shame to see his huge potential go to waste.

There’s still time for Earl to turn things around this season and play a key part in the play-off push, but a loan move may well be a possibility if there aren’t some encouraging signs between now and the summer.

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