Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be well aware that arguably our best player from last season has left the club after North End accepted a bid from Sheffield United for a fee rumoured to be £8m. The second highest after the near £10m we received for Jordan Hugill and around £2m more than the amount we received for David Nugent when he joined Portsmouth 12 years ago yesterday (11th July, 2007), but more on that in a bit.
There’s no doubt that Robinson leaving weakens us. His form was excellent last season and he finished with 13 goals in all competitions despite having 3 or 4 months out injured. If he’d have stayed fit that number would have been much closer to 20, if not more. You can read more about Callum’s time at Deepdale here.
We scored 67 goals in the league last season, the 8th highest scorers in the league. Only Brentford scored more and didn’t end up in the play-offs but losing almost 1/5 of our goals in one player absolutely does weaken us, no matter what anyone says. Callum Robinson scored 17% of our goals last season and as I mentioned, he was out for about a third of the season. Granted, Alan Browne also scored 17% of our goals but the nearest to these two in terms of goals scored was Daniel Johnson, Paul Gallagher and Tom Barkhuizen who all scored 6.
A Possible Replacement?
There’s been a few people online saying we don’t really need a replacement for Callum which I completely disagree with. Now, whether we go out and spend money on someone who will come in with plenty of room to develop or we spend on someone who is a bit more of a ready-made replacement, we’re all just going to have to wait and see what the owner decides to do with the money.
Someone like Ashley Hunter at Fleetwood would tick the box of a player who would come in with plenty of room for development. He posted excellent numbers in League 1 last season (shoutout to @Blades_analytic on twitter) with 8 goals from an xG of 6.53, 10 assists from an xA of 6.29. Only 8 players in the third tier registered xA and xG per 90 minutes of 0.2 or more and of those 8, only 2 were u23.
Some further perspective on this – the only u23 players in the Championship to register an xA and xG of 0.2 plus per 90 were Daniel James, formerly of Swansea and now of Manchester United and Emiliano Buendia of Norwich, now in the Premier League and in the same age bracket in the Premier League last season, Leroy Sané managed it. So, for those folks who are bleating on social media about ‘another dead wood striker’ or ‘if this is the standard we sign then that’ll be me done’, just open your mind a little bit and look at the potential we’re potentially going to be bringing in here.
As far as players that would require an outlay, there are a few names that have been doing the rounds like Jamal Lowe but I think we all feel the same way when it comes to the owner spending a good chunk of money on a player. An unbroken record transfer fee that stands at almost 20 years tells you how often we go out and spend significantly.
Current Squad Options
In terms of who we have available at the club to replace Robinson, in my opinion, there’s no one who can week in, week out, comfortably play in that position.
Granted, there are players who have played there before and who can ‘do a job’ there but we aren’t in the days of Darren Ferguson, Phil Brown and Graham Westley anymore where we need to try and wedge players into playing in a certain position (provided everyone stays fit) and so we should just settle for ‘they’ll do’. We aren’t that club anymore, at least I don’t think we are with Alex Neil at the helm.
Of course, as the season progresses there’s going to be rotation between players and certain positions but that would be the same with or without Robinson.
Those who are saying Brad Potts could play there, or to phrase it as I’ve frequently seen it, he could, again, ‘do a job’. No. He’s better centrally and has shown that over a number of games last season.
Barky has played out there before but I think we can all agree he’s better on the right and he’ll have competition with Billy Bodin on that side. Billy Bodin will probably play out on the left with some rotation but he’s almost never played on the left side despite being left footed. That then leads me on to Josh Harrop.
His one and only game in the Manchester United first team was out on the left side and he scored the goal against Crystal Palace by cutting in from the left and finishing past Wayne Hennessey with a neat right-footed finish and I actually think he is one who could flourish in that position. In the first half against Bamber Bridge he played out on the left and looked okay but that was against Brig so it’s hard to properly judge a player on 45 minutes against a Northern Premier League side.
Then we have Sean Maguire who we’ve all seen play out on the left. Again, in the past he’s looked okay on the in the position Robinson has now vacated but personally, I think he’s better when playing centrally or just off a big striker. Someone who brings the ball down, will run into the channels taking defenders with him and making space for Seani to dart into. Someone like, I don’t know, Jordan Hugill perhaps?
The other thing about Maguire is that since his two fairly serious hamstring injuries in the past couple of seasons, he looks like he may have lost a yard or two of pace and looks like he may not be the same player he was when he first joined. This is a big season for him and I’d like to see him through the middle to be honest.
Finally, I’ve seen a lot of people saying Josh Ginnelly can replace Cal. This is absolutely not me knocking the lad but he’s made a handful of substitute appearances for us and played two lots of 45 minutes against a Northern Premier League side and a League of Ireland Premier Division side. Yes, I admit, he’s looked good in his limited appearances but is he really the answer for us for a full season when we’re supposed to be going for the top 6?
He’s never started a game at Championship level and while he could turn out to be the business is that really something that fans would be happy with? Pinning our hopes on an untested player who hasn’t played competitive football since January? Would it even be fair on the lad himself? What if he gets thrown in at the deep end, we’ve thrown all our eggs in a Josh Ginnelly shaped basket and then he looks out of his depth and we’re past the transfer window, can’t sign anyone to play that position and we’re hoping one of the other players we’ve got can fill in and ‘do a job’. We’re back to square pegs in round holes again.
Alex Neil said last season that he’d have liked another winger in through the door in the summer and that was with Nmecha and Barker here too. We’ve lost both of them and now Robinson so I don’t think his desire for a winger will have waned, if anything it’ll have increased in my opinion.
Anyway, let’s see what the next few weeks bring in terms of incomings, you never know, we may all be pleasantly surprised. Talking of incomings…
Is David Nugent Returning to Preston North End?
Well, that seems to be the talk on social media at the moment. I have been told he’s been at Deepdale today so let’s see what happens. I have to say, 14-year-old me is absolutely buzzing at the thought of seeing Nuge back in Lilywhite next season.
Is he what we need right now? In my opinion, no. Not at all. Is he a replacement for Robbo? Nope and I’d be gobsmacked if any fans or anyone within the club harboured that thought because in no world is he a replacement for Callum. What he is though, is experienced, a legend at the club (yes, I used the ‘L’ word, deal with it) and is a low-risk addition to the squad because you would presume he’ll have taken a pay cut to join.
I think he’s probably good mates with Gally and you would imagine he’d have a similar influence on the mostly young squad that we have here at the moment. Who knows, perhaps we could see both of them on the coaching staff in the future?
So, while I’m not buzzing thinking Nugent is going to be coming in and firing us to the title, I am buzzing at the nostalgia this signing brings with it, the potential positive impact it’s going to have around the club, the city and with the fans.