Why Preston North End Have What It Takes To Fight For Promotion
Despite a lame end to the season where they were once more than safe from relegation and with no prospect of making the Premier League, Preston North End still managed to secure 11th place on 62 points and importantly with a goal difference of +1.
Back on March 20th, I offered up the name of Preston North End as my Championship team of the year. They were sitting 9th in the league table at that point, five points away from a play-off place and with a goal difference of +6, which read very impressively at the time.
As I’d written at the time, I have nothing against Simon Grayson. However, he’s just not in the class of Rafa Benitez, David Wagner or Chris Hughton and his team is one of the least valuable in the Championship in terms of transfer market value. The efforts of the players in question during that period was admirable and there is no reason I can see why that won’t continue in Grayson’s absence next season after his defection to Sunderland.
The excellent Tom Clark, Greg Cunningham, Alan Browne and Jordan Hugill for me can mix it with the very best in the division; even if their reputations don’t necessarily go before them. Hugill, in particular, is one to watch next season.
Despite the fact that he is only just finding his feet at the club, Hugill has just had his most productive season ever, managing 44 appearances. His 35 starts in that time yielded 12 goals and you can add a few more to that next season if he continues to improve as expected.
Given better service, which may naturally improve from the likes of Josh Harrop, he can be expected to start passing the 20-goal mark soon, which is extremely valuable these days. Think of Abraham and Gayle! Last season may have ended a tad too soon for Hugill. The Middlesbrough-born striker scored a lovely goal at St James’ Park in an otherwise dismal performance against Newcastle which was a part of a run of 7 goals in 19 games in the Championship during a period in which his side won only 4 times.
He will outgrow this Preston team if they are not careful but with him still in the lineup, Preston North End have a huge chance of making the playoffs under Alex Neil. Alright, Norwich’s season was poor last time and Neil was dismissed from that job, but that will only make him more hungry to succeed and we should not underestimate this side.