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Dave Seddon’s PNE Press View: Jordan Hugill’s journey from pulling pints to the Premier League

Jordan Hugill celebrates a goal against QPR at Deepdale
Jordan Hugill celebrates a goal against QPR at Deepdale

Jordan Hugill could be said to have polarised opinion among Preston fans at times but his sale to West Ham this week seemed to get a universal nod of approval.

No one could begrudge him a crack at playing in the Premier League and the good luck messages poured in for him once he put pen to paper on his four-and-a-half year deal at the London Stadium.

The club record sale by North End for a fee of around £9.5m was terrific business, a huge return on a £25,000 investment in June 2014.

I doubt even Mystic Meg could have predicted such a rise, Hugill going from being a Middlesbrough barman to Premier League player in a little more than five years.

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From a monetary point of view, it was a no-brainer for PNE to cash in.

Even with the sell-on clause to Port Vale, the profit was huge and it seemed the right time for a parting of the ways.

I’m glad his new home is in the Premier League and not a fellow Championship club, even if West Ham fans might not share that view.

Ipswich, Birmingham, Wolves and Reading had all tried to lure him away in the past year but sometimes waiting for a while longer can pay dividends.

Last August, patience was lacking from Hugill when he handed in a transfer request to try and force an £8m move to Reading.

With all respect, a switch to the Madejski Stadium would have been a sideways move and not the exciting adventure Hugill now has in front of him.

His story is a great one, something a bit different in a footballing world which is getting rather predictable.

Not for Hugill was the path through the academy to Under-23 games played on immaculate pitches.

His career started with a diet of non-league football on the North Yorkshire coast and then a spell with the Glenn Hoddle academy in Spain – a venture where young players without clubs were given their chance.

Hugill tore his cruciate ligament after coming home from Spain to play non-league.

To make ends meet while he recovered and couldn’t play football, he took a job behind a bar pulling pints and mixing cocktails.

The striker pitched up at Deepdale three-and-a-half years ago in what was a low-risk punt by North End.

Hugill’s was a steady rise with a few hiccups along the way – a red card and a knee injury stalling him early on.

He saw red again in the first few weeks of his second season but bounced back.

It was in the last two or three months of that 2015/16 campaign that Hugill came to prominence, scoring in the derby wins at Bolton and Blackburn.

When Joe Garner left at the start of 2016/17, Hugill got his chance and rarely looked back.

His work-rate was a huge part of his game and very much appreciated by many.

Some looked at him not being a prolific goalscorer and felt he wasn’t for them.

That was shown when the first whiff of interest came in from Ipswich just over a year ago – there were those who would have sold then for the £1.5m on offer.

To this day there are North End fans who regard Hugill as overrated and are pinching themselves at the fee West Ham paid.

Clearly, there is a market for strikers of his ilk, for the old-fashioned targetman which is becoming an endangered species in the era of No.10s and false nines.

The fact that four clubs from the Championship bid for him in 2017, followed up by the interest from Crystal Palace and then West Ham moving in to buy him, shows that a market is there.

Hugill and similar types might not be as easy on the eye as some strikers but there remains a place for them.

With Hugill now a happy Hammer, thoughts turn to life without him at Preston.

The targetman option is now gone from their game which won’t necessarily be a bad thing if it encourages more play on the floor.

North End did just that at Nottingham Forest during the week and also last month against Wycombe.

The idea was to try and move the opposition defence around via interchanging and quick movement along the front line.

A test of that approach could well come against Hull City this weekend, should the Tigers choose to sit in and absorb pressure like other teams have done this season at Deepdale.

After Hugill’s exit and the close of the window, what is the state of health of Preston’s squad?

During January there were mixed messages about whether Louis Moult could be regarded as a replacement for Hugill or as a foil for him.

It appears Moult was the replacement, in situ should Hugill be lured away.

Alex Neil seems to think he has got enough up front, the PNE boss having a liking for the 4-2-3-1 system with plenty of movement in and around a central striker.

Time will tell if that is the case, he certainly has the numbers in that attacking line behind the front man.

Further back on the pitch, not being able to land Ryan Ledson or someone similar has raised concerns, should Ben Pearson continue to pick up yellow cards.

In my book, signing Ledson would have been the icing on the cake.