Jordan Hugill’s battling qualities have played a big part in Preston’s approach to games in the last couple of seasons. Jordan Hugill’s battling qualities have played a big part in Preston’s approach to games in the last couple of seasons.
He was North End’s top scorer last term with 13 goals and leads the way this time with eight.
While last season he was, in the main part, of a two-man strike force, this time he has been leading the line on his own – the support coming from wide and a No.10 behind him.
Being the spearhead of the attack is a role Hugill is revelling in – it suits his physical approach.
He is learning that it is a case of ‘give and take’ with defenders – if you dish it out, you’re going to get some back.
Mind you, being on the end of some bruising play, or the threat of it at least, is something he came across very early in his career.
“I made my debut for Seaham when I was 16 and played centre-forward,” said Hugill.
“The first thing which the opposition centre-half said to me was that he was going to bite my nose off!
“I didn’t really know what to say when a player twice my age was saying things like that.
“It didn’t affect me, I got on with the game and I’ve still got my nose.
“When you are battling against defenders, what you’ll find is that you give as good as you get.
“I enjoy the physical side of the game.
“I’ve always played as a striker, was always quite tall as a kid but I used to be a lot skinnier.
“It was only when I did my knee in non-league that I started to hit the gym while I was out injured.
“Being in the gym all the time I got bigger and stronger and that is where my strength developed.
“That is now something I use to my advantage.
“But there are other parts to my game too, it’s not just about strength. I can run in behind, I’m quite fast, which I don’t think people always see.”
What Hugill brings to the table is something which other clubs admire, judging by the interest shown in him over the last 12 months or so.
Ipswich made two bids for him in January, with Wolves, Birmingham and Reading making offers in the summer.
Reading put £8m on the table for the 26-year-old in August but PNE stood firm and rejected the bid.
Further speculation is bound to start doing the rounds with the January transfer window soon to be upon us.
The interest in Hugill clearly shows that some clubs see a traditional No.9 as an important part of their armoury.
But are players like him a dying breed in the world of tricky No.10s and nippy wingers?
Hugill said: “The way it has gone recently, a lot of teams play with just one up. So you need a focal point to bring the ball down and play.
“Football went through a stage of being a little bit nicey-nicey.
“Now it is coming back round the other way where you sometimes need a big player up there.
“There are a few like me knocking around in the league, not many but a few.”
Strikers will always be judged on goals and Hugill is keenly aware of that.
However, he sees the job of holding the ball up and bringing others into play as a key part of his job.
“Like any striker, I want to score as many goals as possible and help the team that way,” said Hugill.
“But my role is also very much about linking the play, involving myself with the defenders so that others have space to play in.
“I think I do that quite well and is a side of my game which over the years has developed.
“If I can get team-mates into space and give them more time on the ball, I’m doing my job. I’ve been chipping in with the goals too and I’m looking to score more.
“Last week at Burton, it might not have been my best game.
“It was a hard game, they had big defenders and I had three of them around me most of the time.
“Because of the physical battle which was going on, I probably didn’t get on the ball as much as I would have liked.
“But I think I softened up the defenders ready for when others came on.
“Daryl Horgan came on and scored, so the change worked well.
“The main thing is that the team does well and we all do our jobs to the best standard we can.”
In the heat of the battle, Hugill is learning to try and stay on the right side of referees as much as he can.
While he has served a suspension for five yellow cards, his discipline has improved since the early stages of his time with North End when he twice got sent off.
“When I started my time here at Preston I was probably a bit naive,” said Hugill.
“I had a couple of red cards when I reacted to things I shouldn’t have.
“As time goes on you gain maturity and learn that referees aren’t going to give you everything.
“As a striker, you give it out to defenders and have to expect some back.”
Hugill and his Preston team-mates face a Roses battle this weekend when Sheffield United come to Deepdale.
They take a five-game unbeaten run into the clash, North End winning three of their last four matches.
If they can put another three points on the board against a Blades side who have impressively made the jump from League One to Championship, it would be a huge boost.
Said Hugill: “We have got ourselves on a nice run and hopefully we can keep that going.
“We had that horrid run of injuries which saw us without a lot of players but having got some of them back, we have found our feet again.
“Every team will have a sticky patch at some stage and hopefully that is ours out of the way.
“We’ve got a very tough game against Sheffield United next, they’ve done brilliantly this season.
“No one expected them to be up there but every credit to them, they’ve been fantastic.
“Like us, they are a hard-working team who will give everything.
“It should be a good game to watch, two teams with the right attitude going for it.
“This will be one where you have to win your battles all over the pitch and earn the right to play.
“I’ll be tough but we’re looking forward to it.”