HUGILL PROFILE: From injury woes and working in a pub, to being described as a ‘hurricane’
Alex Neil is as competitive and tenacious as a manager as he was as a player and the former Norwich boss can give City supporters plenty of insight into what to expect from striker Jordan Hugill - describing him as being “a bit like a hurricane”.
The Scot managed the Canaries new boy for just half a season as Preston boss but with 10 goals from the opening 29 matches of the 2017-18 season, North End accepted a bid from West Ham worth a club record fee of close to £10million.
So Neil was wary of his former player’s threat when preparing his team for a League Cup tie against Middlesbrough in September 2018.
“Jordan is a good player, you don’t move for that amount of money if you’re not,” the former Canaries boss told the Lancashire Evening Post. “He was in double figures for goals when he left and was a key part of how we played.
“But he has moved on now and is at Middlesbrough. Does it give us any type of advantage in that we know what is coming? Not really.
“If a hurricane is coming and it is going to land on your doorstep, it’s not pretty or nice but you have to do something to deal with it. Jordan Hugill is a bit like a hurricane, flinging his arms and elbows around.
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“The lad did brilliantly for us, we know he is going to be physical and we have to fight against that.”
Neil also said at the time that he had wanted to take Hugill back to Deepdale in the summer of 2018, after his move to West Ham quickly turned sour as David Moyes was replaced at the helm by Manuel Pellegrini, but admitted Preston couldn’t compete financially with Boro for a loan deal.
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That tenacity, aggression and determination was forged amid the fire and brimstone of non-league football, as the physical forward had to use the path less travelled to find his way into the Football League.
Originally from Middlesbrough, Hugill’s form for local side Seaham Red Star had earned him a trial with Sunderland as a 17-year-old, only for a broken ankle to thwart his hopes.
He did have trials at Leeds and Sunderland but at 18 years old, after finishing a BTEC qualification in sports science at college while playing for Consett, he impressed during a trial and joined the Glenn Hoddle Academy in Spain.
Over a year later he returned home and signed for Whitby Town in the Northern Premier League in December and scored on his debut - only to be taken off on a stretcher after 15 minutes with a serious knee injury.
After 10 months out injured he returned to Marske United, where he had played as a junior, and scored 10 goals in 10 games in Northern League Division One while working as a barman in a pub.
That earned a trial with League One side Port Vale and he impressed enough to earn a one-year deal. From there Hugill wasted little time in building a reputation as a bustling front man.
An initial loan to Gateshead brought five goals in seven matches in the top tier of non-league and that momentum earned him a League One debut with Vale in October 2013 as a 21-year-old, coming off the bench to score his first goal in his fourth game for the club, rounding the keeper to wrap up a 3-1 win over Shrewsbury.
Having only signed a one-year deal, Preston swooped for just £25,000 in the summer of 2014, although a 20 percent sell-on clause would later net the Valiants close to £2m when North End sold Hugill to West Ham.
He then scored during his first two starts for Preston but limited opportunities took him to League Two for loan stints with Tranmere and Hartlepool during the second half of 2014-15, scoring four goals in eight matches for the Pools.
With his parent club promoted to the Championship, he returned and scored five goals in 32 games, although he started only nine matches - with a red card just three minutes after coming on in a Championship game against MK Dons in August not helping his cause, for kicking out in retaliation at an opponent.
But 13 goals in 47 games during 2016-17 established his reputation fully at Championship level, finishing as Preston’s top scorer.
It was during that season that Ipswich were keen, with Town having two bids rejected during January 2017 and Mick McCarthy later admitting he had tried to buy the forward, only to see his value move out of their price range completely in the summer.
Hugill’s ambition did see a transfer request lodged that summer though, which was rejected by Preston, but he kept his head down and his fine form took him to West Ham in January 2018.
Just three appearances as a substitute followed in the Premier League though and after the Hammers’ change of management it was back to the Championship, scoring six goals in 37 league games as hometown club Boro just missed out on the play-offs.
Pellegrini remained unconvinced and last season he was at QPR, scoring 13 goals in 39 Championship matches - also showing he’s no stranger to a yellow card, picking up 10 bookings.
Four of those goals came during his final nine games of last season, sparked by scoring the first as Rangers fought back from 2-0 down to beat Stoke 4-2 in February, drawing high praise from manager Mark Warburton.
“He deserved the ovation today, he worked his socks off. He bullied the centre-half all afternoon,” Warburton said.
“He battled really hard, he got his goal, he was tireless all afternoon and he thoroughly deserved the ovation.
“Strikers go through barren spells. It’s important that confidence stays high and the belief in their technique and their ability.
“You saw today what it means to Jordan.”
Hugill missed the final five games of the season, however, after a hamstring strain just before scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win at Boro in July - lobbing the Boro keeper from 25 yards before going down clutching his left thigh.
All of which has made for something of a whirlwind career so far for a player who has been described as being like a ‘hurricane’.
Aggressive, strong, good in the air, broke through from non-league having spent time abroad - remind you of anyone?
For the record, Grant Holt was also 28 when he signed for Norwich.
- For more on Hugill’s form at QPR last season, see the video at the top of this story, as we caught up with QPR fan and LoftForWords writer Clive Whittingham to find out more about the loan spell