He may not be one of the Championship’s leading marksmen, but Preston would be forgiven for never wanting to see Atdhe Nuhiu again.
The Sheffield Wednesday striker has spent six years with the Owls, scoring 35 times. That’s not exactly a stellar record, but he always manages to cause chaos against Preston.
That’s because the Kosovar striker stands at a gigantic 6ft 6in tall. He’s not the most fashionable or technical of strikers, but he’s big, physical, great in the air and up for a battle with any defender.
Last season, Wednesday were 3-1 down at Deepdale before bringing Nuhiu on. Preston fans almost knew what was coming next; an aerial bombardment that Alex Neil’s side weren’t ideally equipped for.
Nuhiu was able to bully young duo Jordan Storey and Ben Davies, hauling Wednesday back into the game. It finished 3-3, and we were all left cursing Nuhiu’s introduction.
Over the summer, Preston took steps to guard against that exact mode of attack. Patrick Bauer arrived from Charlton, and whilst defending crosses remains an issue, he’s at least bean aerially dominant.
In today’s 2-1 win over Wednesday, Bauer had to be substituted due to injury – just moments before Nuhiu was introduced. That left him up against Davies and Storey again, with supporters left fearing deju vu.
Nuhiu immediately caused problems, and Neil was forced into an unexpected solution. Striker Jayden Stockley was incredibly moved back to play in defence, in a move we’ll probably never see again.
Stockley was the most aerially dominant player left on the pitch for North End. He is known for scoring headed goals, and at 6ft 3in tall, he was the best equipped to deal with Nuhiu in the air.
Centre forward Stockley did his job to the best of his ability, though he did almost give away a penalty. Without Stockley moving back, North End may well have fallen to Nuhiu’s impact once again.
Hopefully, Bauer will be back soon. Even if he isn’t Paul Huntington would surely come onto the bench, offering a little more height. Either way, surely we won’t see Stockley as a centre back in the future.
Some still believe that Neil is tactically naive, but few would have made that decision. It worked for Preston, and Neil again deserves major credit for an idea that many would have deemed bizarre. Making the quite the habit of that, isn’t he?