After Friday night’s showing, PNE must step up their interest in versatile Fleetwood attacker Ashley Hunter – who bagged the winner in the second half at Highbury.
The classy 23-year-old has been an exciting prospect for a number of seasons now and Preston should push the boat out to capture the services of a youngster who is only set to get better.
Last season, Hunter made 43 appearances (29 starts), scoring 8 and assisting 10. These are undoubtedly some impressive numbers for a 23-year-old midfielder, but what these simple statistics don’t underline, is Hunter’s incredible versatility.
From wing-back to winger to out-and-out striker, Hunter has been utilised in a variety of positions and this versatility is what Preston are crying out for after the departure of Callum Robinson.
Hunter, like Robinson, has the ability to fit anywhere in the final third. He’s a tricky winger, with eye-catching close control and a deadly finish to match. The former Ilkeston man also has a pinpoint delivery, hence his impressive assist numbers.
While Hunter may not be the most fashionable signing coming from Fleetwood, he is a player who would fit perfectly into our system and Friday night proved that.
Hunter caused numerous issues for the Preston backline. For one, he’s lightening fast. But he’s also got a diligent positional sense – knowing when to drift central and pierce the backline, but also when to stay wide and put a cross into the box.
This makes him incredibly difficult to mark, as he will act as a false 9, while also sticking to the edge of the pitch when his team need width.
But for me, his standout stat is his xG (expected goal) performance. Across all his seasons with Fleetwood in League One (9299 minutes), Hunter has scored 29 goals (on average 0.28 per 90 minutes). And these 29 goals came from an expected goal tally of 21. Hunter outperformed his xG by 8 goals, which portrays him as a clinical finisher with an ability to score goals from difficult positions.
Similarly, Callum Robinson also outperformed his xG tally last season, albeit playing in a higher division. And, when comparing a few key stats from last season, Hunter and Robinson are stylistically quite similar.
Both made around 4 recoveries per 90 minutes played, Robinson made 2.45 interceptions per 90 minutes while Hunter made 3.2. Both had a passing accuracy over 70% and Robinson made 0.12 assists per 90 while Hunter made 0.32. They also both won around 40% of their duels per 90 minutes played.
Hunter and Robinson are both extremely creative attackers, with the ability to score a variety of goals and both appear quite tenacious when it comes to winning back the ball.
If we are in the market for a Callum Robinson replacement, then Ashley Hunter has the potential to be a like-for-like player at this level. Stylistically, they are very similar and if Friday night’s stellar showing is anything to go by (yes, I know it was a friendly…), then Hunter would be the perfect fit for Alex Neil’s fast-paced system.
How much would he cost? Well, he wasn’t always favoured by Joey Barton, to the surprise of some Fleetwood fans, which may make a potential deal easier to strike. But, Fleetwood do not undervalue the attacker, who is still only young. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fleetwood demanded a fee between £1-2 million, but this would be a price worth paying for a player with proven attributes along with plenty of potential.