Less than 12 months ago Josh Earl was unheard of by many North End fans.
Those who had watched the Academy reach their first FA Youth Cup quarter-final in over 50 years would have seen him, but many more would probably have said ‘who?’ when he became part of the first team set up at the start of the season.
At that stage in mid-2017 the Southport-born youngster did not know where his future lay. He did not know whether he would be getting a professional contract or if his future was at Deepdale, where he had been since age nine.
He did earn that contract and the appointment of Alex Neil in the summer was a huge moment for the big full back. He impressed the new manager in pre-season and although he could have gone out on loan to any number of lower league suitors, the PNE boss was keen to keep him around until the very last moment of the summer transfer window in case of any injuries.
That pre-emptive decision proved extremely astute when Greg Cunningham tore him hamstring off the tendon and Earl, whose only previously experience of men’s football was a loan spell – and a promotion – with Lancaster City at the end of last season – was jumped from Category Three Academy matches into the lion’s den of first team Championship football!
However, it did not daunt the now 19-year-old, who looked the part from the off and as we now head deeper into the business end of the season, he has 20 games under his belt at this level and is improving game-by-game. So what has he made of what can only be described as a whirlwind 12 months?
“The last 12 months have been amazing for me, especially since becoming a professional footballer I have had the best six months of my career so far – and the first six months of my career,” he told The One And Only at Springfields during the international break.
“It has been exciting and we’re all excited as well to see if we can push for the Play-Offs and we have just got to keep pushing now.
“This is a dream come true for me, I would never have thought that this would have happened.
“I have been at this club since I was nine-years-old. I would never have thought I would have been in this position six months or 12 months ago. To be in this position now is amazing really, I cannot thank the gaffer enough for my opportunity and the players for guiding me along the way.
“I have really enjoyed the past six months.
“At the start of this year I was going on loan to League Two if I was lucky.
“If you are not in the squad or you are not playing you are disappointed and you can’t help that because you have had a taste of it and you want to carry on playing. But you have got to realise, you have got to take a step back and look at what you have done for the past seven months and you have got to keep on pushing to get your spot in the side consistently.
“I am really enjoying it and I do realise that I am not going to be in the side every week, but I have just got to push and push to try and make sure that I do get in the team every week sometime soon.”
The next few weeks will be a new experience for Josh, but with the pressure on the bigger teams around the top six, he knows that if the Lilywhites keep picking up the wins, they will continue to apply the squeeze on their rivals.
“It is about putting pressure on the teams around us, because if we get points then the teams around us feel like they have to get points and they look at our results and panic that they have not got a result.
“It is all about putting pressure on the teams behind us and the teams above us.
“We just have to keep on pushing and try and put as much pressure on to make sure we get the results for us as well.
“We can’t be fearful of not getting results, because that happens in this league because it is a difficult league to play in; but we have to try and push to get as many results as possible.
“All of the lads are devastated if we don’t get the result we want, but we just have to push and try and get the three points.
“That is all we can do really and I think we are doing a good job of it at the moment.
“The majority of the squad have never played in the Premier League and that makes us all the more hungry than other players are, because they have already been there and done it.
“Everyone in this squad is hungry to go up to the Premier League and play in the Premier League. That helps us massively because we are all so young and hungry to do it.
“There is still 21 points to play for.
“It is all to play for, a lot of teams can slip up. We are going to push ourselves as far as possible to get ourselves into the Play-Off positions. If we do as well as we are hoping we will do, we will get into those Play-Off positions.
“You can tell when we play teams that no one particularly wants to play us.
“There are a lot of teams that we play and players are shying out of tackles. We are a horrible team to play against, which is good.
“I don’t think anyone will want to get us in the Play-Offs and I don’t think anyone would want to play us from now until the end of the season as well.
“So I am just looking forward to the rest of the season.”
You can read plenty more from Josh, along with features and interviews with Darnell Fisher, Callum Robinson and former PNE and Rams defender Youl Mawene, plus all the usual features and articles in our 100 page edition of The One And Only this Monday.
The official matchday programme will be on sale from the Sir Tom Finney ticket office from Saturday and then from inside and outside the stadium on Bank Holiday Monday for just £3, don’t miss out!