Dave Seddon's Preston North End Press View: Targetman still wanted
Things had not quite gone as far as hanging out the bunting or baking a '˜welcome home' cake but there was an air of intrigue about Jordan Hugill coming back to Preston North End as a Middlesbrough player.
In the end the striker wasn’t even aboard the Boro team coach, left at home on Teesside to prepare for league action rather than do battle with his former club in the third round of the League Cup at Deepdale.
The North End defence instead had Ashley Fletcher and Rudy Gestede to battle with in a game they were to eventually lose on penalties.
Hugill might be quite long gone in terms of being a PNE player but he is never too far from the conversation.
It is eight months, give or take a couple of days, since he hopped on a train and travelled to London to sign for West Ham for £9.5m.
In August Hugill headed back north, not stopping at Preston but continuing to the Riverside Stadium to join Boro on a season-long loan.
A replacement for him at Deepdale is still awaited, the ‘targetman wanted’ sign hanging in the window.
Other strikers are now in the dressing room, Louis Moult arriving ahead of Hugill’s exit, Lukas Nmecha coming from Manchester City on loan in August.
But a Hugill Mk II has eluded North End in the transfer market, powerful physical strikers in short supply it seems.
The fee from Preston’s club record sale is often talked about by supporters.
It was a running theme at the recent fans’ forum when questions were asked about its reinvestment.
And Hugill’s name has cropped up several times in press conferences when Alex Neil talks tactics. In trying to explain some of PNE’s defensive issues, Neil name checked Hugill.
Why mention a striker when a leaking back four was on the agenda?
It was because having a frontman capable of holding up the ball was an option to relieve pressure.
As it is, Neil is looking for his side to play their way up the pitch which can have its risks – Boro’s second goal coming moments after PNE had been in possession.
Not that Neil would want his side to always be trying to hit their striker but it does provide an alternative.
Presumably they will try again to unearth a targetman in January, hopefully the search more fruitful.
Then perhaps less and less we will feel the need to talk about Hugill.
After his non-appearance on Tuesday night, his return to Deepdale will have to wait to November 27 when Boro venture back to these parts in the league.
Just at the moment, Neil is getting some joy by using Callum Robinson as North End’s central striker.
It is four goals in five games for Robinson, three of those hitting the net while playing up the middle.
He has been PNE’s most consistent performer this season and is playing with lots of confidence.
Robinson looks a touch stronger this season which has benefited his game.
Last week at Sheffield United it was noticeable how confident he was in going to look to get on the ball when North End managed to get out from the back during the first half.
Later, Robinson was in the right place – seven yards out – to slot in their first goal.
The central role isn’t a new one for him, having played there a few times last season.
I recall Robinson being swapped with Sean Maguire at Sunderland in March.
At half-time, Robinson went up front with Maguire moving to the role on the left side of the attack.
Both players went on to score, with Robinson also finding the net at QPR in April in the striker’s role.
Having Robinson at the top of the pitch is buying North End some time ahead of Maguire’s return from his hamstring injury.
That should hopefully come soon but it might have to be a case of bit-by-bit for the Irishman.
When he came back from injury last season, it was a staggered return – two or three appearances off the bench before a start.
Meanwhile, I experienced a first last week in terms of being delayed getting to a game – students!
It made a change from a motorway jam or a pesky Highways Agency diversion.
Sheffield was gridlocked as PNE’s visit to Bramall Lane clashed with thousands of students returning for the new term at Sheffield Hallam University.
Much of the university’s accommodation is located in the area surrounding Bramall Lane and what chaos there was as students and parents headed there at the same time as football fans.
Stuck in traffic near the ground as we headed for a side street to park in, we saw two of the United players making their way on foot to the ground.
The referee got there just an hour before, while one group of PNE supporters abandoned their coach some distance from the ground and walked the rest of the way – arriving by half-time.
Had they stayed in the traffic, their arrival would have been even later.
It was akin to plonking Deepdale slap bang in the middle of Adelphi on the day UCLan started back.