Preston North End host Queens Park Rangers in the Championship today, and that means the return of a former Lilywhite.
Alex Neil will have seen Nottingham Forest slip up at home to Millwall on Friday night, and after three defeats in four for Preston, today is a real chance to get back on track.
If Preston are to win today though, they will have to overcome former striker Jordan Hugill, who makes a second return to Deepdale, having also faced North End with Middlesbrough last season.
Hugill, 27, has been in decent form for QPR this season, notching 13 goals in all competitions. With Nahki Wells lost in January, Hugill is QPR’s main goal threat – and enters the game with three goals in his last eight games.
Preston will hopefully know enough about Hugill to deal with him, but his return – with North End’s current strikers struggling to score – will lead to conversations about the decision to sell him in 2018.
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As reported by the LEP in January 2018, Preston struck a deal worth more than £8million for Hugill, selling him to Premier League side West Ham United. Come the end of the season, North End missed out on the playoffs by just two points – leaving many to wonder what could have been if he hadn’t been sold.
Hugill didn’t exactly have a great time either, making just three substitute appearances for the Hammers. The only real winners were the bank balances of Hugill and Preston; nobody really won from this move on the pitch.
Yes, it would have been great to see Hugill stay. He had turned himself from the £25,000 punt North End took in 2014 into one of the Championship’s most dangerous strikers, even if he wasn’t always the most graceful striker. Full of running and endeavour, Hugill was perfect for Neil’s pressing style, whilst he had a turn of pace and the power to trouble defenders.
However, selling Hugill was the right choice. He was inside the final 18 months of his contract, had no plans to stay put, and was being offered a chance to play in the Premier League – just years after being a barman and playing non-league football. North End couldn’t really stand in his way, and the truth is that Preston sold him for a price that they would never see again.
Hugill’s value has only decreased since leaving Preston, and North End would have likely either seen Hugill move on for a cut-price fee or even for nothing if they had refused West Ham’s offer.
North End do miss Hugill, a player who fit into Neil’s system perfectly. Yet really, the frustration should be with the recruitment since Hugill’s exit, rather than the decision to sell him in isolation.
More than two years on, Preston still don’t really have a striker that can play Neil’s system to anywhere near the same understanding or quality that Hugill did. despite raking in such a huge fee to sign him.
That’s where Hugill’s exit really stings. Preston haven’t been able to find a player with Hugill’s qualities, or when they have, they haven’t been able to sign him; such as Keiffer Moore.
With Seani Maguire, David Nugent and Jayden Stockley struggling for goals this season, Preston will hope Hugill doesn’t find the net at Deepdale today, and again highlight the inability to replace him, which has clearly been the bigger problem than selling him.