Preston North End new boy Andrew Hughes ready to seize his chance to shine in the Championship
It's a case of better late than never for Andrew Hughes.
The left back has long held ambitions of plying his trade higher up the Football League in the Championship.
Having been released by Cardiff as a youngster, the 26-year-old worked his way through the divisions with Newport County and Peterborough United before landing at Deepdale in the summer.
A serious knee injury in December 2014 halted his progress but he feels he is now ready to make his mark with Preston.
“I’m really enjoying myself,” said Hughes.
“I think every player wants to test themselves in a better league and finally my chance has come to do that.
“I got an unlucky injury at Newport and I was meant to be moving to the Championship back then.
“Ever since that point it’s always been on my mind.
“When the chance came it was a no brainer. It’s up to me to grab it with both hands.”
He is certainly going about it the right way after being given the nod to start the season on the left-hand side of the North End defence.
Having been brought into replace Cardiff-bound Greg Cunningham, Bluebirds fan Hughes played the full 90 minutes against both Queens Park Rangers and Swansea before being rested against Morecambe in the League Cup on Tuesday night.
He knows he can’t rest on his laurels though with Josh Earl certain to provide him with some stiff competition in the weeks and months to come.
“It’s pleasing on a personal note,” said Hughes, who is expected to return to the starting line-up against Stoke City at Deepdale on Saturday.
“But if you look at all the other lads on a daily basis and the way they train, the strength of squad is such that you could literally put anyone in any place.
“You saw on Tuesday night with making 11 changes against Morecambe, it was a totally new team but any one of them could play on Saturday.
“It’s that good a squad. There’s no weaknesses.
“Josh played fantastically on Tuesday and did well last season when Greg was injured.
“I feel like I settled in really quickly.
“Greg and I must have passed each other on the motorway! It’s a great move for him.”
As a Cardiff supporter, Hughes was hoping for a different result at the Liberty Stadium last time out.
PNE slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Swansea, an improved second-half performance not enough to see them take a point back north from South Wales.
“It was crazy,” said Hughes.
“I was on the phone to my dad on the coach and I was literally five minutes away from my house.
“I was nearly telling the boys to pop in for a cup of tea, it was that close.
“It was a shame we didn’t get the win against Swansea, that would have been nice for a Cardiff fan!”
Another relegated side Stoke are next up at Deepdale this weekend.
The Potters and new manager Gary Rowett are still looking for their first Championship win of the season with many believing it is a good time to play a team who have kept the majority of the big names who represented them in the top flight.
It is the kind of game North End will be looking to make a mark in if they are to compete for a spot in the top six this season.
“They’re a former Premier League team so we know the kind of quality they have,” said Hughes.
“It can be hard to get out of a losing mentality though.
“We’ll take the game to them and go for the three points.
“You saw last year how the boys finished seventh and we want to improve on that this year.
“We got the win against QPR, put in a good performance in the second half against Swansea but lost and hopefully we can put that right on Saturday.”
It is no real secret how PNE will look to make life difficult for the Potters, something Hughes knows all about.
“We like to press from the front and not give teams much time on the ball,” he said.
“I’ve played against teams who have done that and there’s nothing worse than when you’ve got players breathing down your neck every time you touch the ball.
“That’s our style of play and we’ll take that into every game.
“We’ve got to put our stamp on matches.”
Further back, Hughes is enjoying what Neil demands from his defenders.
“I’ve found him a really good manager to work with,” said PNE’s No.16.
“The detail he goes in to is second to none and he makes his point really clearly.
“At Peterborough last year it was a very attacking style of play.
“It’s not as attacking on a personal note this year but I’m a defender.
“My job is to defend first and then join in when I can which suits me perfectly really.”
Like others in the North End squad, a move to Deepdale could see Hughes come into international reckoning.
Sean Maguire, for the Republic of Ireland, and Billy Bodin, with Wales, have both won their first caps for their countries shortly after making the move to PNE.
Quickly establishing himself in the Championship means Hughes could soon get a call from Ryan Giggs with the first international break of the season coming at the start of September.
“It would be nice to get a call-up,” said the defender, who represented Wales at Under 16 level.
“The next international break is in a few weeks and I’ll just see what happens.
“I’ve got to just keep playing well and training hard.
“That’s all I can do.
“But when you’re playing in the Championship and Premier League you get more recognition for your country.
“Now I’ve moved up hopefully I can be involved.
“The Welsh set-up has gone through the roof in recent years.
“The Euros were a massive part of that and the atmosphere at the home games is unbelievable.
“It’s really going well down there.”