The January transfer window is now fast approaching, with fans no doubt hoping for some new faces at Deepdale.
As things stand though, one player is set to return to Preston, with Josh Earl’s loan spell at Bolton Wanderers coming towards its end. On January 5th, Earl’s stint with the League One side finishes, though an extension can’t be ruled out.
In truth, North End’s decision to send Earl out on loan seemed odd. Serving as Andrew Hughes’ main cover at left back, Earl was sent out without a replacement coming in. Naturally, Hughes went down with an injury just days later.
North End have endured injury issues in both full back areas, and Earl had his own injury issues earlier this season. An ankle injury suffered just minutes into his Bolton debut kept him out for almost three months.
Now, Earl is back in action and playing regularly, though he did recently pick up a red card in a 7-1 defeat at Accrington Stanley. Now, Earl has spoken to The Bolton News about his future, admitting that Preston have kept in contact with him. Earl suggested that he’s focused fully on Bolton at the moment, and just wants to play more after a stop-start season to date.
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“It has been very stop-start at Bolton,” said Earl. “I haven’t played anywhere near as many games as I wanted to. But I am back now and I want to try and find a spot in the side, keep fit, stop getting silly red cards and stuff like that, and play as much as I can. Preston have kept in contact and have been checking on me. I obviously haven’t been playing much, so there hasn’t been much to say. But as soon as I got back they called me, which is good.”
“I just want to play as much and as well as I can for Bolton and try to keep the club up. That’s the plan. Preston is in the back of my mind a little bit at the moment. I’m focussed on Bolton, keeping my spot in the side and winning as many games as possible,” he added.
What’s interesting about Earl’s time with Bolton is that he’s been playing as a centre back. Fans have praised his performances there, so could Earl’s future be at centre back?
One thing Alex Neil loves is balance with his centre backs. Ben Davies is his only left-footed centre back, and losing that balance does hamper Preston’s build-up play. Neil loves that balance so much that when Davies was injured for the game against Blackburn Rovers, he played Hughes there instead of a centre back.
Earl certainly has the size to play as a centre back, standing at 6ft 4in tall. Davies himself even made the switch from left back to centre back, thriving out on loan before becoming a star at Deepdale.
Hopefully, Earl can do the same. Gaining experience and confidence at centre back is key, and having made a cash bid for a left back in Max Lowe back in August, maybe the plan all along has been to kick Earl inside to centre back. That could be key with Davies’s long-term future unclear.