This summer, it feels like there’s been one rumour doing the rounds more than some others, maybe not the Nugent one, but word that Jordan Hugill will be returning to Deepdale after leaving for the Premier League on deadline day in January 2018, just won’t go away. Ever since he left, there’s been talk of a return and this summer could see him back in PR1.

According to numerous reports on social media and elsewhere on the world wide web, Preston North End are in advanced talks with West Ham United about bringing the 6ft forward back on a permanent basis. Pete O’Rourke for Football Insider first wrote a piece earlier today detailing the talks. Other outlets, including our friends over at Deepdale Digest, have written about it too.

Most recently though, the LEP says the club “deny being in talks with West Ham over a deal for Jordan Hugill.” and journalist Alan Nixon, @reluctantnicko on twitter, has said that it’s now Wigan who are in pole position to land the striker after agreeing a fee with West Ham.

Where will he end up this summer? Who knows. Either way, in this piece, I put forward my case for bringing Jordan back to the club and why I think Preston North End and Jordan Hugill are a perfect match.

Hugill’s Role Change

We’ve spoken a fair bit about Jordan in the recent past; on the podcast, in some of our written content and between all of us writers in conversation and whatnot and I’m almost certain we’re all in the ‘bring Hugill back’ camp. For me, personally, the change in manager was the best thing to happen for Jordan.

Under Simon Grayson, he was very much a workhorse, no-frills and often deployed to play up top on his own. However, that all changed in the summer of 2017.

When Alex Neil came in and took charge at Deepdale, Hugill’s role changed quite significantly compared to when he played the lone striker role under Simon Grayson. Neil’s system, as I’m sure most are aware now, is to play with just one frontman but the difference between the way Alex Neil and Simon Grayson set their teams up is that under the gaffer at the moment, we almost always set up to attack.

What that means is that when Jordan was here, he had players in and around him to play off, link-up with and run the channels thus, creating space for the likes of Maguire, Robinson, Barkhuizen et al to run into and do their thing. One game that springs to mind is the Fulham away game when we drew 2-2 despite being 2-0 up inside 30 minutes.

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We had Alan Browne pressing high in behind Hugill, Barkhuizen playing out on the right and Sean Maguire playing out on the left. The movement, pace and drive from the 4 of them with DJ’s quality of passing in behind led to us having a 2-goal lead, scoring twice inside 7 minutes. We could have had a third if not for a good stop from Fulham ‘keeper David Button to deny Alan Browne after he was played through by Daniel Johnson.

The other thing that Hugill was utilised as was, quite simply, a battering ram. Often he would run the defenders ragged and literally, give them the run-around, tire them out and then other players would come on with fresh legs and would have tired defenders to go at.

All of this is evidenced in the Cardiff game at home when, after having a number of good opportunities to take the lead early on in the first half, we won a free-kick after Hugill was fouled by Cardiff defender Sol Bamba (battering ram, tick ✅) and up stepped Harrop who tucked the ball away into the ‘keeper’s bottom left-hand corner.

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The next goal in the 70th minute came after Hugill was seemingly fouled by Sean Morrison, Barkhuizen won the ball ahead of Bamba and played through Maguire who had the calmness to create a bit of space in the box and get his shot off and fire past Neil Etheridge in the Cardiff net to put us 2-0 up. Again, this all stemmed from a ball up to Hugill, he was fouled, the defenders were caught out of position and the pace and guile in and around Jordan created the opportunity that resulted in the goal.

Finally, the last goal is one that everyone will remember, or at least they should. A fine finish by Alan Browne from more than 35 yards out but what’s important in this is, again, Jordan’s movement and never say die mentality. Initially, the ball comes up to him in the left side channel from Josh Earl but he is flagged offside. Sol Bamba plays the ball square from the free-kick and it eventually finds its way to Darnell Fisher in the right-back position who hits it long upfield.

The Cardiff defence clearly thinks Hugill is in an offside position again when the ball comes back so they let it run through to the keeper but Hugill has moved back onside by this time and can now become ‘active’ again if you will. He presses Etheridge and as a result of this pressure, the Cardiff stopper shanks his pass into the path of Alan Browne and just like that, Browney’s got another goal to add to his collection of screamers.

A 3-0 win and all 3 goals as a result of the work rate, tenacity and determination of one man: Jordan Hugill. I could go on but I think this illustrates my point enough. In my opinion, we don’t have someone at the moment who clearly ticks all of these boxes.

Current Options

As it stands, we have 3 strikers on the books. Sean Maguire who joined in June 2017 from Cork City, Louis Moult who joined in January 2018 and Jayden Stockley who joined in January 2019. In my opinion, and this is probably one that many fans will disagree with but, none of these can do everything that Hugill can.

As far as a target man goes, Jayden Stockley ticks that box. He’s not super mobile but can link play quite well with his head and without a doubt, he is a deadly finisher as his goalscoring record clearly shows. He’s one that, I think, given a chance in the coming season could easily hit double figures. He just doesn’t do the leg work that Jordan does simply because he can’t, it’s not his game, at least not from what I’ve seen. The Fylde game at the weekend, in my opinion, he looked completely lost for the 15/20 minutes or so that he was on the pitch.

Louis Moult has shown in flashes what he can do but he’s been at the club for 18 months now and for whatever reason hasn’t grasped a regular spot in the side under Alex Neil when he’s been fit. He’s a lot more mobile than Stockley but again, can’t do the job that Hugill does so well in hustling and harrying defenders, giving them something to think about other than just running around. I personally think Louis will be the one to make way should Jordan sign in the coming days and weeks, especially after previous rumoured interest from newly-promoted Luton.

As for Seáni Maguire, everyone knows what he’s about. When he first came in, some even likened him to ‘a young David Nugent’. He buzzes about the pitch in a similar style to Nuge when he was here in his first spell and, as Matt Hill said about David Nugent and his ‘quick little scampering legs’ in our recent exclusive interview, you can definitely see elements of this in the way Seáni plays too.

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Maguire’s pace is vital to his game and it looked at points last season like he may have lost a yard or two of pace after his hamstring injuries but his performance in the 60 minutes or so that he was on the pitch against AFC Fylde this weekend just gone, he didn’t show any signs of lacking pace.

He gets the ball and drives into the box, is very direct and will always give the defence something to think about.

So, none of the three on the books at the moment really fit the bill in my opinion. They’ve all got their qualities but they’re not Jordan.

The Key: Alex Neil

The other key factor in this deal potentially happening is the gaffer, Alex Neil. In the press after the home game against Reading in August 2017, he had this to say about his centre forward:

“Jordan is a beast, he really is. The two centre-backs who he was up against are strong boys, so it just goes to show how physically dominant he can be.

“We wanted to try and get out from the back, but Reading tried to stop that by pressing.

“So, Jordan provided the outlet, we could clip it up to him and play from there.

“Jordan is a rare breed, a big centre-forward who can link the game as well as he does and carry a goal threat.”

If that doesn’t make it clear just how much the gaffer rates him then I don’t know what will. He perfectly sums up the Middlesbrough born forward and the gaffer, or so it seems, will be pivotal in any return he makes to the club. We’re all under the impression that he was made certain assurances when he signed his new 3-year deal in April this year.

Perhaps one of those assurances was the return of Hugill from West Ham United who have since left him out of their pre-season squad that has flown out to China, despite him being one of their only recognised forwards. Usually, this would indicate that a player is set to leave a club, one way or another.

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Whether he comes here and whether or not it’s on a permanent basis or a loan for the season remains to be seen but the media outlets reporting the negotiations seem to think it’ll be a permanent deal.

The other thing that will be a big plus for both the club and you would suspect the player too is the fact that they know each other inside out. Hugill was at the club for a number of years before leaving so he’ll have friends here both within the staff and the squad so settling back in shouldn’t be an issue. Also, having played in Alex Neil’s system before, he’ll know what’s required from him every time he steps out on to the pitch.

One other thing to note which I don’t think he gets enough credit for is technique. Often times, people just think he’s a big lump to hoof the ball up to and that he’ll win flick-ons and so on but, he has scored some fine goals too. The one against Sunderland and the one against Aston Villa are 2 that stand out as quality finishes from outside of the box.

For the goal against Sunderland, he drifted inside John O’Shea and smashed a first-time volley into the roof of Luke Steele’s net. A snapshot volley of the highest quality.

For the Aston Villa goal, it had a bit of everything. Daniel Johnson fizzed it into his chest just inside the Villa half and he then ran directly toward the Villa goal, carrying the ball a good 30 yards or so, cut it back inside and took a couple of Villa players out of his way and smashed it into the top corner of Sam Johnstone’s net, impressive for a ‘big lump’.

He then capped it off with a powerful header past Johnstone after Aiden McGeady whipped a ball into the box.

So, I think I’ve put my case across for bringing Jordan back to the club pretty well in this piece. Whether you agree with me or not is another matter. Feel free to get in touch on social media with your thoughts on this. We know the fan base is pretty evenly split with the two polls we ran a few weeks back asking if you’d like Hugill to return ending up split pretty much 50/50.

Finally, don’t forget to listen to the From the Finney podcast, the latest episode is out now in which Oli and I talk about the first week of pre-season, Callum Robinson departing for Sheffield United and David Nugent edging ever closer to a return.