Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: A week to remember for Andrew Hughes

Andrew Hughes has had a decent week as he gets ready to face home-town club Cardiff with Preston North End on Sunday.

By Dave Seddon
Friday, 7th January 2022, 4:45 pm

Hughes scored PNE’s winner at Stoke on Monday and a couple of days later put pen to paper on a two-year contract.

One wasn’t linked with the other, the new deal not suddenly thrust under his nose by reason of igniting the away end at the bet365 Stadium.

Rather it was a contract earned for consistency in his performances for a decent length of time.

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Andrew Hughes (right) celebrates his goal at Stoke on Monday

Hughes will never be a poster boy at Deepdale, left-sided defenders rarely are at any club.

But in the Welshman, North End have a reliable player whose form over the last nine months cannot be ignored.

A shift of position has breathed new life into Hughes, given him a spark.

His first couple of years as a Preston player were spent predominantly at left-back, with an occasional use of him in the centre of defence.

In April, Frankie McAvoy reshaped the team and went 3-5-2, Hughes getting the nod on the left of the back three.

He’s been hard to shift from there ever since, missing only three league games then – Hughes’ big toe was split open by Troy Deeney landing on him at Birmingham in September.

That accounted for two games on the sidelines, with him missing the Blackburn derby in December with a bruised knee sustained late on the previous week against Fulham.

Hughes wasn’t fully fit for the win against Barnsley but pushed himself through the pain barrier, something which didn’t go unnoticed by Ryan Lowe overseeing his first game in charge of PNE.

Lowe’s second game at the helm was Stoke away, Hughes the late hero as he headed North End’s second goal in the 81st minute.

It got slightly lost in the post-match mix, Brad Potts’ volleyed equaliser and celebration capturing many of the headlines.

Until Monday, Hughes hadn’t scored in a league game since February 2019.

That was the day he gave Preston an early lead against Millwall at The Den.

He was in his first season at the club back then, with him going all of the 2019/20 and 2020/21 campaigns without a goal.

Hughes did find the net against Cheltenham in the Carabao Cup earlier this season but one in the heat of a Championship battle evaded him until this week.

The centre-back role is one which best suits Hughes’ game now.

With Lowe at the helm, he still has a bit of licence to push forward – Hughes remarked to the media this week how in the Barnsley game he found himself overlapping Josh Earl on a couple of occasions.

Primarily his job is to help North End be as solid as they can at the back, his left foot giving the defence balance.

Hughes’ contract runs until summer 2024, a period in which Lowe will look to push the club forward to hopefully bigger and better things.

Lowe clearly sees Hughes as being part of that push and the player was obviously keen to sign up.

Predicting him and Potts would be the two names on the scoresheet at Stoke, would have been some guess ahead of kick-off.

An even bolder prediction would have been Potts playing at right wing-back.

Lowe has gone for a bold approach in that role, Ali McCann playing there in the Barnsley game and replaced by Potts at Stoke. Lowe doesn’t want his wing-backs staying at home and being part of a five-man defence.

Hence his use of more attack-minded players on the right-hand side. On the left he will be encouraging Josh Earl to show more of attacking instinct.

There were promising signs of that from Earl in his link play with Daniel Johnson at Stoke.

It was Earl who got high up the pitch to play in Johnson to provide the cross for Potts’ volleyed equaliser.

My word, he hit that shot didn’t he? Just as impressive was his celebration.

Off Potts headed towards the travelling PNE faithful, the way he hurdled an advertising board and fence in quick succession was reminiscent of the 1970s show ‘Superstars’ when sporting celebrities used to compete in a number of sports.

There were a couple of hugs from those on the front row before Potts rejoined his team-mates on the pitch.

Hopefully that was a thaw in relations between some of the fanbase and Potts.

He’s taken some strong criticism this season, which came to a head at Nottingham Forest when there was cheering from a section of the away end when Potts was substituted.

It will be interesting to see if Potts gets another chance at wing-back in the Cardiff clash.

There must be the temptation on Lowe’s part to have another look at him in that role and give Potts a second game to get more used to it.

That right wing-back role could be a fascinating one in the weeks ahead.

McCann and Potts have played there, Tom Barkhuizen and Matthew Olsounde who can both operate at wing-back, are close to a return to fitness.

There’s Joe Rafferty in the mix too, he’s been on the bench for both of Lowe’s games in charge.

Rafferty is a full-back by trade, perhaps not fitting the criteria of what the manager wants from a wing-back.

The Cardiff game will have the edge taken off it by the fact it is being played behind closed doors.

It is a game which wouldn’t have attracted a huge crowd but to have to play it in an empty ground is disappointing.

No one enjoyed behind-closed-doors football from June 2020 to May 2021, it was soulless, the sport treading water while the pandemic did its thing.

PNE are back in Wales later this month to play Swansea and I just hope the restrictions imposed by the Welsh Government are lifted by then.