On the eve of Preston’s game with Brentford, it’s again unclear what Alex Neil will go with up top.

After scoring in a striking role at Nottingham Forest, we’re going with Billy Bodin to start in attack again. Seani Maguire, Louis Moult, Tom Barkhuizen and David Nugent are all still out injured, whilst Jayden Stockley is clearly out of favour.

Last week, we discussed Bodin’s qualities in the striking role. His movement, pressing and technical ability makes him an interesting ‘false 9’ option, but there are big issues at Deepdale.

It’s quite clear by now that Neil just doesn’t have the striker he really wants to play up top. Neil loved having Jordan Hugill up top; a physical striker who would initiate the press, run the channels and be mobile enough to ensure that the play doesn’t become one-dimensional.

That’s been the issue with the immobile Stockley. Maguire isn’t big or strong enough to be a focal point, meaning wingers Bodin and Barkhuizen have been used as auxiliary strikers.

Preston North End manager Alex Neil. (Photo by Tim Markland/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Neil will surely be looking to land a true centre forward in January. That forward will need to tick all the boxes Hugill did, but North End may now rue not bringing Hugill himself back.

Sold to West Ham in January 2018 after nearly four years at Deepdale, Hugill really kicked on under Neil. A Premier League move was still a surprise though, and just three appearances for the Hammers showed that he wasn’t quite top-flight material.

Preston return was rumoured

Even last season, he couldn’t get back to his best at Middlesbrough. This past summer, there were plenty of rumours about a move back to Preston, with West Ham keen to cut ties.

We covered media reports that suggested Preston were in advanced talks to re-sign Hugill permanently, just 18 months after his exit. That didn’t happen, and he joined Queens Park Rangers on loan instead. Now, Hugill is showing North End what they missed out on.

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND – AUGUST 03: Queens Park Rangers’ Jordan Hugill. (Photo by Stephen White – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Hugill has been exceptional for QPR so far, hitting five goals in his first six games for the club. He’s become an instant favourite at Loftus Road, even with a shocking goalline miss against Wigan Athletic.

Mark Warburton will no doubt want Hugill permanently at the end of the season, and Preston may have missed their chance now. If we can’t get Hugill back, finding Hugill’s true replacement has to be the priority, as Stockley isn’t that.

North End travel to face QPR in December, and will certainly hope that Hugill doesn’t haunt them with goals – at least any more than he already is doing.

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