Adam Lord's PNE Press View: Standing up to big boys on and off the field

In a tough opening five games of the Championship season Preston North End have sent a message that they mean business on the field.

Saturday, 2nd September 2017, 11:00 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:50 pm
Preston North End's Jordan Hugill

Alex Neil’s side have played on the front foot against some of the second tier’s big-hitters and picked up eight points to make it a fine start for the new man in charge.

Over the last week, the Lilywhites showed they mean business off the field too.

In the face of almost unprecedented, for PNE at least, interest in their prize asset, the club stood firm, and hung a not for sale sign prominently around Jordan Hugill’s neck.

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Reading’s £8 million offer, that would have been a record sale, and interest from Wovles, Birmingham and Sunderland ultimately came to nothing with the No.9 still a Preston player when the window slammed shut, sorry I had to, at 11pm on Thursday night.

There wasn’t just pressure from other clubs.

The player himself made headlines on Tuesday by handing in a transfer request, that like the bids for his services was swiftly refused.

It came on the back of offers, of far lower value admittedly, being rejected for Greg Cunningham and Callum Robinson.

Not only does it show Preston, who continue to be viewed as one of the smaller clubs in the division, won’t be pushed around but it also demonstrates that there is ambition at Deepdale this season.

After back-to-back 11th-placed finishes under Simon Grayson a new manager who has been promoted to the Premier League has arrived and is only looking one way.

He’s not going to make any wild predictions. That’s not Neil’s style.

But there’s a quiet confidence around Springfields when we are allowed in for press conferences.

And the manager’s declaration when asked about interest in players last Saturday that North End wanted “to try and achieve something this season” has been backed up by those on high in the days that followed.

Message received, loud and clear.

It’s at this juncture however that I’ll change tact.

There are most definitely two sides to this argument and while the above is more in line with my thinking I certainly see where other supporters are coming from.

In keeping Hugill, there is a risk that Neil has a player on his hands who doesn’t want to be at the club.

A calculated gamble has been made that Preston will still get the same endeavour from their front man that they’ve seen in the opening weeks of the season.

With three goals to his name, the 25-year-old has led the line supremely despite all the hullabaloo going on around him.

Granted, handing in a transfer request is a new low in the relationship between player and club and only time will tell if PNE have rolled the dice and come up with a six.

The other argument is that £8 million was more than ample for a player who has had one good season in the Championship under his belt.

That may be the case, although I’d probably argue it’s about the going rate given some of the exorbitant fees that were doing the rounds on Thursday evening.

The issue was not so much the money, it would have surpassed the £6 million Portsmouth paid for David Nugent as a club record, but what chance there would have been to reinvest it.

Sure PNE would have had contingencies but they wouldn’t have wanted to take an unnecessary risk in the transfer market when they didn’t have to. Better the devil you know and all that.

The club would also have been breaking new ground, the incoming transfer record still the £1.5 million paid for David Healy nearly 17 years ago.

It was taking a step back that led to no new signings being made on deadline day, the depatures of Eoin Doyle and Liam Grimshaw the only done deals at Deepdale.

I know that was also something that some fans were less than impressed with.

As I understand it, Neil would have liked some more strength in depth, as he indicated earlier in the month and after the draw at Middlesbrough.

North End had a look around and couldn’t find the right player at the right price however.

Given the start made and the fact all their key men were staying put, Neil was seemingly happy to stand a safe distance from the frenzy elsewhere, backing his players to do the job between now and at least January 1 when the window re-opens.

The manager has had plenty of encouragement in recent weeks and despite saying it would be good to give his squad “a hand” with a new recruit of two he has seen the likes of Josh Earl come in and prove what quality there is outside the established starting XI.

Only time will tell if Preston are a couple of players short as some have asserted.

That’s all done now though and minds will soon turn to next Saturday and Barnsley’s trip to Deepdale.

Call me old fashioned. But can we talk about football now?