By Pete O'Rourke

5th Jan, 2020 | 12:40pm

Exclusive: Fleetwood in pole position for in-demand Preston player, loan move plotted

Fleetwood are lining up a loan move for Preston North End defender Josh Earl this month, Football Insider understands.

The 21-year-old left-back has just returned to Preston after his loan deal at Bolton Wanderers expired this weekend and the Championship club are willing to send him out on loan again.

A source at Preston has told Football Insider that with Earl well down the pecking order in Alex Neil’s first-team plans at Deepdale, the club feel he would benefit by going out on loan to get regular first-team football.

Neil feels he has enough cover in defence in Andrew Hughes and Joe Rafferty to allow Earl to stay out on loan for the second half of the season before returning next season to Deepdale to challenge for a first-team spot.

The English left-back managed 11 appearances in total for Bolton during his loan stay at the club and he would have made more if not for an ankle injury which ruled him out for two months.

A number of Football League clubs have expressed an interest in taking Earl on loan in January but it is Fleetwood that are in pole position for the versatile defender as they lead the race.

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Fleetwood manager Joey Barton is looking to bolster his squad to boost the club’s push for promotion from League One this season and the Preston defender would give the ex-Premier League star options as he can play at centre-back as well as at left-back.

Earl, who is a product of Preston’s youth system, has so far managed to make 36 appearances for the club’s senior side.

The 21-year-old is contracted to stay at Deepdale until 2021 as he signed a contract extension in January 2019.

In other Preston news, Football Insider can reveal that the Championship side are in the hunt to sign Salford attacker for a cut-price fee.