Season to remember for PNE striker

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Preston North End striker Jordan Hugill might only have played 20 games this season but he has still managed to cram plenty into the campaign.

It would fill a decent chunk of an autobiography should he ever choose to write one later in his football career.

Jordan Hugill at North End's Press day at Deepdale ahead of the play-off final

Jordan Hugill at North End's Press day at Deepdale ahead of the play-off final

In summary, Hugill scored against his boyhood club, got a red card when effectively running on one leg, had holes drilled in his knee to cure a serious injury and helped keep Hartlepool United in the Football League.

He now hopes to be able to add a victory at Wembley to that list when North End take on Swindon in Sunday’s League One play-off final.

“Someone mentioned to me that I could get a full book out of this season,” Hugill told the Evening Post.

“That is what football is about for most players, you have your ups and downs.

“I started the season well but then had the knee injury.

“It was my target to finish the season on a high and I did at Hartlepool by scoring the goal which kept them up.

“I came back to Preston after the loan spell and was fortunate enough to be named on the bench for both legs of the play-offs.

“We are off to Wembley now and hopefully I can play a part in that.”

Hugill joined the Lilywhites from Port Vale last summer, PNE manager Simon Grayson seeing raw potential rather than the finished product.

In the early stages of the season he was on the fringes of the first-team squad, his first goal coming against home-town club Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup.

But his campaign came to a shuddering halt at Walsall on September 13.

After coming on as a sub in the first half, Hugill twisted his knee but soldiered on, determined to take his chance.

In the second half, he got a red card after retaliating to a challenge from Saddlers centre-back Andy Butler. The subsequent red card and three-match ban he got for that was to stretch for nearly five months.

His twisted knee had caused substantial cartilage damage, an injury which required a method of surgery known as microfracturing.

It was to be February when Hugill returned to action, when he was loaned out to Tranmere in order to get match fitness.

That loan on the Wirral was not a success – far from it in fact – but the one which followed at Hartlepool could not have gone much better.

The 22-year-old scored four goals, including the winner against Exeter which kept them in League Two.

Said Hugill: “I’m local to that part of the world, from Middlesbrough which is only 10 minutes from Hartlepool.

“The loan suited me because I got back home for a bit, saw my girlfriend every day and I enjoyed my football.

“Simon Grayson, when he sent me on loan, told me to enjoy it and get some matches in order to be ready for next season.

“Scoring some goals gave me a lot of confidence and I’m come back to Preston feeling very confident.

“The gaffer put me straight back into the squad for the play-off semi-finals and I was going to come on in the second leg until Calum Woods got a bit of a knock.

“Just being back around the lads has been good. Being on the bench was a bonus because that was something I had not expected.

“I would love to be involved in some way at Wembley and I cannot wait for Sunday.

“I’ve never been there, so this is something special.

“This is only my second season in professional football – three years ago I was a barman in Middesbrough

“So to be going to Wembley is unbelievable.

“It is days like that which make up for the low times when things are tough.

“Being out for five months after the Walsall game was tough mentally but now I want to finish the season on a high.

“I had a great finish to my loan at Hartlepool and I want the same thing here.”

Hugill and his North End team-mates have been going through their paces at Deepdale over the last couple of days and will continue to train at the stadium until their departure to Wembley.

Attention to detail has included the playing surface dimensions.

“They have marked out the pitch so that it is the same size as Wembley,” said Hugill.

“We have prepared well, had some 11 versus 11 and some short, sharp stuff, ready for the game.

“Everyone is training well and wants to be involved in the final on Sunday.

“I’m pretty sure that the fans who have a fantastic day – we want to win it for them.”