Preston North End left-back Andrew Hughes ready to face home-town club Cardiff City
Preston North End’s clash with Cardiff City is a huge one in the race for the play-offs but if any extra spice was needed for Andrew Hughes, it is the fact he will be facing his home-town club.
The Lilywhites left-back was born and raised in the Welsh capital and was in the Bluebirds’ academy for eight years as a youngster.
He didn’t get offered a scholarship by them though, moving along the M4 to get his career up-and-running at Newport County instead.
So the Cardiff fixtures were always going to be the two Hughes looked out for first – it is just that Saturday lunchtime’s clash (12.30pm) at Deepdale has come three months later than initially scheduled.
Hughes said: “I’m from an area about 10 minutes away from Cardiff’s ground.
“I was in their academy for several years, so playing against them is something a bit more for more.
“They released me at 15, the year before they decide to whether to offer scholarships or not.
“After that I had a year not really doing anything and then I went to Newport.
“That is where I kicked on and got myself going in football.
“A few of the lads I was with at Cardiff have made a career in the game.
“The obvious one was Aaron Ramsey – that one speaks for itself.
“There was Adam Matthews who went to Celtic and is now at Charlton Athletic.
“Aaron Wildig got in the Cardiff team a few times and is now at Morecambe.
“Aaron Ramsey was the year above me but we played together when the Under-14s and Under-15s were put together.”
Hughes and his Preston team-mates will be looking to rediscover that winning feeling again after something of a barren spell.
Before the lockdown they had hit a run of just one win in five matches.
In last week’s restart at Luton, North End drew 1-1 against the Championship’s bottom team – conceding an 87th minute equaliser.
If a place in the play-offs is to become reality, a run of victories is needed.
It certainly increases the importance of the meeting with Cardiff who are level on points with Alex Neil’s side.
“The game is massive, there’s no two ways about it,” said Hughes.
“Cardiff played Leeds last Sunday and won. The way the table has panned out they are right behind us.
“The magnitude of the game speaks for itself, we need to go out and win.”
This will be Deepdale’s first ever competitive match behind closed doors and will be swiftly followed by PNE’s 5,000th league game against Derby County on Wednesday teatime.
Hughes admitted the experience of playing at Luton in an empty ground was strange, so too all the safety protocol surrounding it.
“It felt like being back in the Under-10s, arriving and going home in your kit,” said the 28-year-old.
“Things were all a bit weird but we have to get used to it.
“Now we have got the first behind closed doors game out of the way, we know what to expect going forward.
“There are no excuses, it is the same for both teams.
“I thought we played well at Luton even though we didn’t get the win we wanted.
“At Luton, crowd noise was played on the speakers to try and create a bit more of an atmosphere.
“It was quite funny at times because the noise of the crowd didn’t necessarily resemble what was happening on the pitch.
“A shot would go miles wide and there would be this massive roar coming through the speakers.
“It was better than nothing I suppose. These games it is our responsibility to create our own atmosphere and be inspired by that.”
Saturday’s game will be the first one played since PNE announced that skipper Tom Clarke would be leaving the club when his contract runs out next week.
Hughes can’t speak highly enough of Clarke who he describes as a natural leader in the dressing room.
“All the years I have played football, I don’t think I have had a better captain than Clarkey,” said Hughes.
“On and off the pitch he’s there for you.
“He knows how to manage a situation and give a bit of advice.
“Clarkey is not really a shouter and bawler but he is not afraid to tell someone to up their game in training or whatever the situation is.
“If you needed a quiet word about something, he would have a listen and give you advice.
“He’s helped me in my two seasons here.”