City report card: Leadership but little luck for Hugill
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Five goals and seven league starts may not have been the season Jordan Hugill had hoped for but the striker was hailed as a ‘leader’ and ‘role model’ by his head coach as Norwich City sealed promotion.
The physical centre-forward arrived in a deal reportedly worth an initial £2.6million which could rise to around £5m after a stint with West Ham didn’t work out.
David Moyes had signed Hugill from Preston in a deal reportedly worth around £10m in January 2018 but gave him just three Premier League opportunities as a substitute before being replaced by Manuel Pellegrini that summer.
Season-long loans with Middlesbrough and QPR followed, bringing 19 goals in 76 Championship matches, doing enough with Rangers to persuade City that he could provide good competition for Teemu Pukki and Adam Idah.
After a quiet start to the campaign, the former non-league striker played a major role in kick-starting the Canaries’ campaign, as his first start arrived at Rotherham – where a tough match is almost always guaranteed by the hard-working teams of Paul Warne.
Pukki and Idah had been in international action less than 72 hours earlier so Hugill got the nod. Had it not been for a brilliant Tim Krul penalty save then City would have been 2-0 down in the first half but they kept battling.
Millers skipper Michael Ihiekwe denied Hugill the equaliser at point-blank range but only managed to turn Max Aarons’ cross into his own net and the hosts were reduced to 10 men after Angus MacDonald’s terrible tackle on Oliver Skipp.
Hugill’s big moment arrived in the fifth minute of injury-time though, after Emi Buendia had won a penalty. He calmly sent the keeper the wrong way with a stuttering routine and punched the air in celebration.
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It would begin a 10-game unbeaten run that took Daniel Farke’s team to the top of the table but by the time that streak came to an end, like several of his teammates, Hugill had been consigned to the treatment room.
Pukki reclaimed centre stage but another starting opportunity arrived away to former club Boro in November, with his colleague returning from Finland duty with a slight injury concern.
After hurting his shoulder early on at the Riverside, Hugill was forced off at the break with ligament damage. His absence ended up being for just four games but the remainder of 2020 was mostly restricted to late cameos as the leaders’ form defied their injury crisis.
The FA Cup would bring game-time, heading in a Przemek Placheta cross to put City 2-0 up in just the seventh minute at Carrow Road, as Coventry were beaten in the third round.
That ensured Hugill was ready as Pukki pulled out of the following league game at late notice, at Cardiff, with a thigh issue.
He battled hard to play his part in that 2-1 win and kept his starting place for the visit of Bristol City the following week – which would prove his best day in a Norwich shirt.
Scoring both goals in that 2-0 win - nodding in a cracking Todd Cantwell cross and bundling home a Max Aarons pass from close-range – meant things were looking bright. Luck wasn’t on Hugill’s side though.
Injuring his hamstring during the 1-0 loss at Barnsley in the FA Cup saw him miss the next six league games and the rest of the season was largely restricted to late cameos as promotion was sealed.
His fifth goal of the campaign sealed the memorable 7-0 demolition of Huddersfield – turning in a magnificent cross from Aarons – as one final start arrived on the final day, during the 2-2 draw at Barnsley.
Hugill’s enthusiastic character and popularity within the squad was emphasised as the celebrations started, as he ensured he was at the heart of the partying.
Ahead of the title being sealed, Farke was keen to ensure Hugill got some credit as the chief support to Pukki, during a successful season that also saw injuries frustrate Idah.
“A key player for me,” Farke said of Hugill. “I don't just rate a player because of his minutes and his impact on the pitch. You don’t win a title or promotion just as 11 players. A leader in our dressing room and one of the main topics why we were promoted.
"He was there with crucial goals, crucial for the spirit within the whole dressing room, and he was crucial to keep the competition high on the other strikers.
"A role model in his behaviour because he works his socks off always in each training session. He is there for his teammates and one of the leading players in our dressing room.
“I'm particularly pleased that we have several of these, and I have to praise my whole group. Yes, maybe an (Emi) Buendia or a Pukki are in the spotlight but it doesn't take anything away that everyone contributed.
"Jordan has overfilled my expectation from before the season started. A top player, a top character and we are all happy to have him.”
Whether the 29-year-old gets Premier League chances remains to be seen. It’s thought another forward option is likely to arrive and that City could be open to allowing Hugill to leave if an offer of regular game-time arrived from elsewhere.
But after making his presence felt during 2020-21, the striker may just be happy to bide his time, be a team player, keep working and wait for an opportunity, knowing that it could well be his last chance in the top flight.