Jordan's Hug-e moment for PNE
Preston North End striker Jordan Hugill certainly had no second thoughts about his face sustaining any long-term damage last weekend.
The swashbuckling forward put his head where it hurts to score North End’s second-half equaliser against Bolton Wanderers at the Macron Stadium on Saturday.
Trailing to Liam Trotter’s 22nd-minute opener, the visitors found a route back into the match 12 minutes after the interval.
Adam Reach’s deflected cross from the left looped into the penalty area where Hugill threw himself head-first at the ball.
Amid the flying boot of Wanderers defender Dean Moxey and the on-rushing attentions of goalkeeper Paul Rabchuka, Hugill managed to get to the ball first.
He headed the ball goalwards and then braced himself for the imminent impact.
The ball rolled into the empty net and fortunately – despite being momentarily dazed – Hugill suffered no lasting damage.
In fact, a huge smile quickly appeared on his face when he realised that the 4,000-plus travelling supporters behind the goal were busy celebrating his first ever league goal for the club.
Hugill was thrilled to finally open his account for North End in a league game, although he did reveal that in the immediate moments leading up to the goal, he was expecting to win a penalty.
“When I went in for the header, I was not too worried about losing my good looks,” he said with a chuckle.
“To be honest I think my looks got spoiled a long time ago.
“But I put my head where it hurts and managed to score.
“I did not actually hurt myself. I was expecting to win a penalty because of the high foot coming in from the Bolton defender.
“I was on the floor for a bit and then I realised it had gone in.
“I think I had Adam Reach trying to pick me up and he was telling me I had scored.
“I thought I had better get up and start celebrating.”
With many PNE supporters wearing bowler hats to mark Gentry Day, Hugill went to doff an imaginary hat to the away end.
“I wanted one of the fans to throw me a hat so I could do it properly,” he said.
That goal proved to be the catalyst for three points for North End as they went on to win the match 2-1 thanks to Eoin Doyle’s late predatory strike. “I think we started the match very well on Saturday and for the first 10 minutes – we looked sharp,” he said.
“Things died down a bit for us after they got their goal, but in the second half we came out fighting.”
It is slightly surprising that Hugill has taken more than 18 months to score his first league goal for North End after arriving at Deepdale from Port Vale in the summer of 2014.
Before last weekend, he had notched four goals for the Lilywhites but all of those strikes had come in cup competitions.
In mitigation, he spent a large part of last season’s League One promotion campaign on the treatment table after undergoing a knee operation and then had spells on loan at both Tranmere and Hartlepool.
This season, he has appeared 26 times, but most of those appearances have been as a substitute.
With Joe Garner suspended, boss Simon Grayson handed Hugill only his fifth start of the Championship campaign.
“It’s big milestone for me,” he said. “It’s my first league goal for the club and hopefully there are a lot more goals to come.
“People probably won’t realise that it’s my first league goal but I’ve not really started too many games at Preston.
“All of my other goals have come in the cup – I think I have got three or four goals in the cup competitions for Preston.
“I did manage to get a few league goals last season when I was at Hartlepool so that was good.”
Hugill almost opened his account in the opening minute of the match last weekend when his header hit the crossbar after Reach’s pinpoint delivery from the left.
“I thought I had scored it,” he added. “It was a great cross from Reachy. He put it in the box and I tried to get my head on it but it clipped the top of the crossbar.”
Hugill is of the firm belief that if he is handed the right kind of service from the wide areas then more often than not, he will be able to win the aerial duel inside the penalty area.
“I’d like to think so,” he said. “I think I possess a good aerial threat.
“The header I scored last weekend shows that I am prepared to do everything I can to score a goal.”
Having only been a professional player since the summer of 2013, Hugill admits this season – his first in the second tier of English football – has been a real eye-opener.
“It’s been a big learning experience,” he said.
“It’s something completely different to what I’ve experienced in the past. The players you are coming up against, they are so good and you find the teams are a lot more ruthless in front of goal.”
Hugill is hoping to have done enough to retain his place for this weekend’s clash against QPR at Deepdale, with Garner still banned.
“I don’t think I have done my chances any harm. We’ll have to see what happens,” he said.
“Hopefully I have put myself in a position to be in the team.”