Ahead of Preston’s must-win clash with Sheffield United, this is a good time to re-visit Jordan Hugill.
It was Hugill who scored PNE’s winner against the Blades when the teams met at Deepdale in December.
The striker’s last game in a North End shirt was the FA Cup tie at Bramall Lane on January 27.
He came on as a sub in the fourth-round clash and right at the death almost volleyed an equaliser.
Four days later Hugill signed for West Ham United in a £9.5m transfer.
It was the Premier League move he desired, completing a journey from non-league to the top flight in four-and-a-half years.
He’s had limited game-time for the Hammers, three appearances off the bench amounting to 22 minutes.
In the last two matches Hugill has had the company of Javier Hernandez and Andy Carroll on the bench.
Both got on ahead of him against Stoke and Arsenal, experienced heads preferred over the younger pup.
Have North End missed Hugill since he left?
It is a question which tends to get asked out loud after a defeat.
Even PNE boss Alex Neil has mentioned him during a couple of press conferences, citing how the frontman’s physical presence might have helped when trying to burst open a defence.
In 16 Championship games without Hugill, North End have scored 22 goals.
The first of those was at Nottingham Forest on the eve of deadline day when the Premier League jungle drums had started to beat.
Neil left Hugill out of the squad that night and saw his side win 3-0 at the City Ground.
They won the next game 2-1 against Hull City and then drew three on the bounce.
Callum Robinson and Louis Moult got the nod to replace Hugill up front.
Initially it was Robinson on his own, with Moult then joining him for a couple of games as a pair – Aston Villa and Ipswich.
Sean Maguire’s return in March saw him take on the scoring burden, firstly from the bench and then in the starting XI.
In terms of whether PNE have missed Hugill, it’s been a mixed bag I would say.
They have coped fine in some of the games, while in others you would have loved to have him in battle with the opposition defence.
Last week’s goalless draw with Norwich was a case in point as Preston huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow the door down.
There is probably never a good time for a high-profile sale of a big player.
Hugill went in January, which is a difficult month to get the right replacement.
Moult was regarded as the direct replacement, bought from Motherwell at the start of the window to cover the eventuality of Hugill leaving.
It took him longer than expected to recover from the hamstring injury he arrived from Scotland with and he has yet to hit the straps here.
Four starts and six games from the bench as we arrive at the end of April, is not what was envisaged.
While some will disagree, it would have been hard for Preston to hang on to Hugill.
He pushed hard enough to get away in August when Reading bid £8m.
Credit to Hugill, he got his head down after the close of the summer window and got on with the job of leading the Deepdale attack.
January was a whole new ball game, a national paper reporting a proposed move to Crystal Palace before either club knew anything about it.
Then came West Ham’s interest on the morning of deadline day, Hugill on the train to the capital by early afternoon ready to complete the move.
Had the move not gone through,it was doubtful North End would have had the same player.
If the rough sketch of his wage at West Ham which I’ve heard is accurate, it is little wonder he jumped at the move.
Had PNE chosen to hang on to Hugill and denied him the move – no wage rise here could get remotely near the Hammers’ terms – getting his head back on the job would have been difficult to say the least.
Some might say this is old news and Hugill is three months gone but his name has cropped up enough times to be worth a look at.
It’s Manchester City away for Hugill on Sunday, while this weekend North End head to Bramall Lane for a match which is must-win, do-or-die, shoot or bust.
Three points is the bare minimum requirement, if Preston get those in the bag then they look for favours from elsewhere.
I dearly hope they can go into the Burton game with something to play for other than pride, even if the odds are stacked against them on the final day.
Yes it is the hope that kills you but to take the push into a 46th game can only be seen as a positive.
If they are to fall short this season, then the bar has been raised for next term.
How the clash with the Blades pans out, is anyone’s guess – will it be two teams with the same aim chucking the kitchen sink at one another or will it be more a tactical game of chess?
A draw is neither use nor ornament to either of them, so it going to have to open up fairly early.