The 11th January 2005 saw Preston North End sign David Nugent from Bury. A relatively unknown quantity at the time, the then 19 year-old had been a regular in the Bury squad in League Two and would go on to be a memorable player for The Lilywhites.
He was signed to aid Preston’s Championship promotion push under Billy Davies and quickly impressed the North End fans. The fan favourite was a breathe of fresh air to a front line which consisted of Richard Cresswell, Patrick Agyemang, Simon Lynch and a certain Andy Smith. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu had a loan spell prior to Nugent’s arrival whilst Ricardo Fuller and David Healy had left earlier to join Portsmouth and Leeds United respectively.
After coming off the bench for the fourth successive game to notch his first goal on Gentry Day away to Queens Park Rangers, he would start 16 of the 17 remaining games after that.
Nugent’s instant impact secured his new side a place in the play-offs after nine goals in 21 games in the second half of the season. Preston would ultimately lose out to West Ham United in the play-off final, but Nugent was just getting started.
The Liverpool-born striker gave us many memorable goals, including a wonderful solo effort in the FA Cup against Crystal Palace which saw him pick up the ball in his own half before going on a mazy run and applying the finish. There was no doubting the boy was a talent, and Preston wouldn’t be able to keep him long if they didn’t reach the promised land.
However the move very nearly didn’t happen at all, as Nugent rejected Preston’s approach at first as reported by The Lancashire Telegraph at the time. Despite a transfer fee having been agreed with cash-strapped Bury, Nuge turned down the contract and there were thought to be other clubs interested as well.
Luckily for all parties the move did go ahead shortly after, and Nugent didn’t look back. In his first full season Preston reached the play-offs again, but more heartache occurred, this time in the semi-finals to Leeds United. Another 17 goals the season after and an England goal on his debut saw Premier League clubs come sniffing. Portsmouth lured him to Fratton Park, paying around £6 million in the process.
Goals were hard to come by in his first two seasons, but he did pick up an FA Cup winners medal. He managed six goals on loan at Burnley in the top flight before finding his feet back in the Championship after Portsmouth were relegated.
Nugent’s best spell of his career probably came with Leicester City, spearheading their Championship title win in 2014 and scoring 59 goals across four years with The Foxes. Unfortunately he left the summer before Leicester’s famous Premier League title win campaign, but did go on to be the best man at Jamie Vardy’s wedding.
Another promotion from the Championship came with Middlesbrough, before moving on to Derby County for a two-and-a-half-year spell.
In 2019 Nugent ‘came home’ with the then 34 year-old having being picked out by then chairman Trevor Hemmings as a move he wanted to happen, and the two were spotted at a pre-season match at AFC Fylde shortly before he signed.
Understandably fans were excited, and it was great to see him in a Preston shirt again. It probably wasn’t a move Alex Neil wanted but the experienced professional did always give us committed performances that season. Despite not having the pace we once saw, and not being anywhere near as prolific he was key in some big games, particularly at home to Fulham when he did score, and in the away game with Leeds United when he was superb.
His record as the top Championship goal scorer since the league was renamed in 2004 was only beaten by Billy Sharp last season. Nugent finished on 121 goals in the league.
Unfortunately Nugent left under a bit of a cloud in the Covid hit campaign of 2020-21, in which he went on loan to Tranmere Rovers, playing at Wembley for them in the Papa Johns final. Fans didn’t get to say a proper goodbye, but will always particularly remember his first spell at the club.
Nugent was a player that got every fan off their seat as soon as he picked up the ball, and we would love to see someone have a similar impact again as when he first came on the scene.