Robinson relishing his central role
It looks like a friendly rivalry and developing strike partnership could be key if Preston North End are to make the play-offs this season.
When he opened the scoring in the 2-1 win against Birmingham City on Tuesday night Callum Robinson drew level with Jordan Hugill on nine goals for the season.
But after PNE were pegged back at Deepdale it was Hugill who popped up with the winner to go back to the top of the goalscoring charts, the improving front man hitting double figures.
Given that Daniel Johnson was North End’s top marksman in the whole of the last campaign with nine, it bodes well for Simon Grayson’s 10th-placed side as they look to close the gap to the top six.
“We’re slowly getting a good understanding together,” said Robinson.
“He’s obviously got different things to me.
“We’ve been getting goals throughout the season and it’s good to be playing with him.
“We had a little bit of banter at the end because he doesn’t want me to beat him.
“It’s good that we’ve got that hunger to score goals for the team.
“My target was to get double figures, I still haven’t got there but when I do I’ll keep going from there.”
Robinson’s development from a versatile forward to a fully-fledged Championship striker has been one of the big positives for PNE this season.
His earlier spells at the club had seen him used more off the front or in wide positions but the 22-year-old is relishing being front and centre for North End, something that has seen him return to his Aston Villa roots.
“Coming through the youth set-up at Villa I was more of a striker who would play out wide now and again,” said Robinson.
“It’s just been about learning the men’s game and it’s taken me time to get to where I want to be.
“I’ll play anywhere in the final third – left, right or up front.
“But I’m really enjoying being in that striker role.”
Part of his development has seen him work on his heading, a key component of any front man’s game.
Nodding home the opener from Aiden McGeady’s cross against Birmingham, he showed that practice is increasingly making perfect.
“I’ve been trying to work on getting in the box,” he said.
“My heading isn’t the best and it’s a bit of a joke with the lads.
“In the centre-forward role heading is a key part of it, that’s what the gaffer told me before the start of the season.
“I’ve been practicing and there’s been a bit of banter on the training pitch but when it comes to the game I’m ready to sniff any chance out.
“My confidence is growing month on month.
“I’m just enjoying playing games and having a run in the team and that helps any young player.”
Opportunities look more likely than ever to come Robinson’s way at the moment given the form of McGeady who has laid on both his goals in the last two games.
The first was a slide-rule pass that allowed Robinson to beat the offside trap against Brentford and the second a whipped cross for a close-range header against Birmingham.
“You’re always going to get chances with his quality,” he said.
“He’s an unbelievable footballer.
“It’s a pleasure to play with him, especially now when he’s flying.
“He’s set up a few of my goals now and it’s really good to be playing with him.”
The Republic of Ireland great isn’t the only one impressing though, with North End a completely different attacking force to 12 months ago.
“It’s really good be involved with good, creative players around me,” said Robinson.
“I probably don’t have to be too creative now I’ve got Daryl (Horgan) and Geads who can do that job.
“I can just hover around the box now.
“Daryl got his first goal on Saturday and an assist on Tuesday and Geads is flying.
“Jordan’s scoring too so we’re all chipping in.”
Robinson’s goals have come on his return to the side, the front man having been a regular for most of the season before being given a breather against Cardiff and Barnsley, coming off the bench in both games.
“It’s definitely helped, my legs feel much better now,” he said.
“The Championship is a hard league.
“There are so many games and I’ve played a lot of them.
“It catches up with you physically and mentally so it was good to get a rest for a couple of weeks and now I’m feeling really good and I’m back to how I was before.”
North End did not win in his absence though, losing 2-0 in South Wales before a 0-0 draw at Oakwell.
Coupled with being held 1-1 by Ipswich prior to that, the two wins at Deepdale this week are something of a return to form for Simon Grayson’s side.
“That week wasn’t the best for us with the two draws and the loss at Cardiff,” said Robinson.
“But if we can go to Wigan this week that’ll be three wins in a week which will be a massive boost.
“It was a good win in the end against Birmingham. We need to keep winning our games at home and we did that.
“We’re doing really well we just have to keep it up.
“We need to be positive when we go out on the pitch like we were on Tuesday night.”
The travelling Lilywhites will be at the DW Stadium in numbers, having sold out their full, 4,700 plus, allocation.
Wigan are battling towards the bottom of the table under former PNE midfielder Warren Joyce.
The Latics currently sit in the final relegation place in 22nd but Robinson believes it all goes out of the window on derby day.
“It’s a big game on Saturday and there are a lot of fans coming down,” he said. “It should be a good atmosphere and hopefully we can get the win.
“With any kind of derby game it doesn’t matter where they are or where we are, we’ve just got to make sure that we bring what we brought in the last two games.
“If we do that I’m confident we’ll get the result.”