When we announced the signing of Jayden Stockley from Exeter City in the January transfer window, I think it’s safe to say that there was plenty of excitement.
I mean, here are just some of your responses:
Get in you big sexy fucker— Ben Rawling (@BenRawlingPNE) January 3, 2019
Announce promotion.— Cal (@Cleags) January 3, 2019
YESSSS YOU BEAUTIFUL BASTARDS MORE OF THIS PLS LADS— JFishh 🤙🏻 (@_JFishh) January 3, 2019
But with this excitement came a good dose of realism. After all, Stockley was making a considerable leap of two divisions while also being tipped to pick up the mantle of Jordan Hugill. People understood that Stockley was an exciting signing, but also one with great potential to disappoint.
Cherry picking players from the lower leagues has been the practice of Preston North End for years now and it is a low risk policy that has come with varying degrees of success.
Jordan Hugill is prime evidence of just how successful our penny-pinching policy has been. The Middlesbrough born brute joined our ranks from Port Vale for £27,000 as a relatively unknown quantity. But after a couple of invaluable loan spells along with 100 league appearances for Preston, Hugill was made an irresistible offer, to the tune of £10,000,000, to play in the Premier League for West Ham. This was a move nobody could begrudge him of.
But our low-risk policy is “low-risk” for a reason. It has also resulted in the recruitment of plenty of deadwood, as for every Jordan Hugill, you also sign a Liam Grimshaw. But Grimshaw isn’t the only misfire. Kevin O’Connor, Andy Boyle, Graham Burke and Eoin Doyle are all examples of budget signings that have failed to impress at PNE.
Yes, our transfer policy can be frustrating due to its hit-and-miss results, but taking a chance on lower-end players is undoubtedly the most profitable method of ensuring the football club’s sustainability in the long-run.
Now, although we have only witnessed him play 711 minutes of Championship football, I believe there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Jayden Stockley will be the next Jordan Hugill, so to speak, rather than a Liam Grimshaw-esque flop.
What do the stats tell us?
Stockley is clinical: In his 711 minutes of Championship football, Stockley had five shots on target, four of which found the back of the net. Every goal that the experts said Stockley would score, he did and this is displayed neatly in his matching numbers of expected non-penalty goals (NPxG) and the number of non-penalty goals he scored.
At Exeter it was a similar story, albeit over a much larger volume of games.
In the 2018 calendar year, Stockley bagged more goals (29 including the play-offs) than any other top four tier player. He also scored more headed goals than any other player in the top European leagues.
His xG performance (which is basically a metric underlining a player’s ability to finish chances) was quite a considerable amount higher than the average striker, and while Stockley completes few assists, he does make plenty of successful passes and deep completions. But this lack in creativity is expected from a poacher and is offset by the creativity of the three attacking midfielders behind him.
Stockley leaps like a salmon: At Exeter, Stockley was involved in more aerial duels than any other striker, winning approximately 90% of these aerial battles. And at Preston, Stockley has already began to show flashes of this aerial brilliance as he won just over 80% of his aerial duels.
Stockley has a classy touch: In our penultimate game of the season at home to Sheffield Wednesday, Stockley flaunted his classy touch. He enjoyed 56 touches of the ball and had a passing success rate of 73%. He also won the most duels in the game. The 25-year-old made a real nuisance of himself in the way that he would latch onto different defenders and seek out half spaces. He also scored a trademark Stockley header with a deft finish that Exeter fans will be all too familiar with.
Jayden Stockley at Exeter City and then Preston NE. Attacking numbers are nearly identical and his xG performance is bang on the money. Looks like he could carry over the numbers next season, although that is one crazy rate of shots on target ending up as goals and it's the same! pic.twitter.com/C03Kh5uoYd— Ram Srinivas (@rramesss) 7 June 2019
Just how much did Exeter fans rate him?
Any striker that bangs goals in for fun is bound to be highly rated by the fans, but I wanted to find out a bit more. Did Exeter fans think Stockley could make the leap? How was he used at Exeter? What were his greatest strengths? And were there any notable weaknesses to his game?
So, I put those questions to established Exeter City fanpage @exetercity1904 in an attempt to delve a little deeper into the Stockley story:
“I was shocked when he joined PNE but at the same time I wasn’t. We knew it would be a real struggle to keep hold of him as he was too good for us but it was quite surprising when he made the step to the Championship.
I thought he would have joined a team in League One challenging for promotion and that the Championship may have been a step too far and that he wouldn’t have got the game time he wanted. I definitely thought he could make the step up in terms of quality because a goal scorer is always a goal scorer. So, with better players around him I thought it would only be a good thing for him and you.
His greatest attributes at City were his aerial threat and how deadly he was in front of goal. Even though he may have had a quiet game up until the 70th minute, you always knew that whenever Stockley was on the pitch, he would have at least one clear chance to win us the game or get us back into the game.
Paul Tisdale used him as a lone striker and so did Taylor and I feel that’s what he enjoyed the most. The responsibility of being the only man and the one everyone looked at for the goals.
As a League Two striker he was almost all you could ask for and it was difficult to see any weaknesses in his game. But if you were to be really critical you would say his pace. He lacks pace which is a weakness if you want him running onto the ball, but if you give him a chance in front of goal he will put it away 9 times out of 10!” Embed from Getty Images
Is Stockley the Answer?
With all the talk of Jordan Hugill returning and the need for a prolific goalscorer, it is easy to overlook what you already have in your arsenal.
While it remains to be seen whether Stockley can deliver the goods at this level for the duration of a full season, I think we need to give him a run of starts at the beginning of the season as the lone striker. A chance to prove himself and to excite fans.
Statistics do not lie and while they cannot be used in isolation, they certainly point to an exciting trend. Stockley, at both Exeter and in his stint with PNE, has proven to be clinical and a real handful for defenders with his acute movement. He could well be the answer to our goal scoring predicament upfront and this begs the question – Do we need to re-sign Jordan Hugill for such a significant financial outlay?
The answer is complex and open to debate, but personally I would like to see the faith of Alex Neil firmly placed in Jayden Stockley. While Hugill and Stockley both offer something different, there is only one number nine spot available. So, either we bring in Hugill and offload Moult (as Maguire can be utilised on the right wing) or we stick with what we’ve got and focus our resources elsewhere. But that’s a debate for another day…