Last year's most prolific striker: The rise of Jayden Stockley
Stockley can expect better pitches than this one in 2019 (photo: Getty Images)

Last year's most prolific striker: The rise of Jayden Stockley

The Bournemouth Academy product has recently been snapped up by Preston North End.

Chris Lincoln

Who scored the most league goals in 2018 out of England's top four tiers? Mo Salah? Harry Kane?

The answer: Jayden Stockley.

The 25-year old netted 29 league goals for Exeter City, one more than Liverpool's hotshot and four more than England's captain. And he has been rewarded with a January move to Championship side Preston North End.

Bournemouth's next big thing

Stockley was the star of Bournemouth's youth team when Eddie Howe's side were down in the lower echelons of the Football League. A certain Danny Ings was part of the same Academy, albeit a year older, but such was Stockley's talent that Ings was often pushed wide with the tall, blonde-haired hopeful the main attacker in the squad.

His talent was clearly visible and caught the attention of Howe, who often watched youth games alongside assistant Jason Tindall. Yet there were question marks over his work rate, perhaps one of the reasons behind his slow progression through the ranks. 

However, less than a fortnight after his 16th birthday, Stockley found himself on the first team substitutes bench before making his debut just a week later. He became the second youngest player to appear for Bournemouth in their history.

Struggling to keep up

The striker was to spend most of the next six years still at Bournemouth but out on loan. The Cherries were working their way up the Football League pyramid and bringing in new players regularly.

Matt Tubbs, Lewis Grabban (who netted 22 goals in 2018), Brett Pitman, Callum Wilson, Benik Afobe, Glenn Murray, Lee Tomlin and Josh King all came through the doors during that period. Stockley could not align his progression with that of the club.

He was to make 127 appearances for nine different clubs across six seasons, scoring 38 goals in the process. The most prolific spells came in 2012-13 for Woking, where he scored 14 goals in 29 games at Conference Premier Level, and Exeter City where he netted 10 times in 22 matches during a period in League Two three seasons ago.

In contrast, Ings had been snapped up by Liverpool after impressing with 37 goals in just two seasons for Burnley at Championship and Premier League level.

Embed from Getty Images

A turn of fortune

2016 presented a year of change for both players. Ings had picked up a cruciate ligament injury the October previous and was sidelined for the majority of the season. He then injured his knee in October 2016, just five months after his return, that would keep him away from the first team squad for 11 months.

Meanwhile, Stockley has done enough to impress Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen. Yet goals were still hard to come by as he found the net just six times in 41 appearances.

However, his form for Exeter was still on the Grecians' mind and he signed for the club on Deadline Day in August 2017. He would go on to score 40 goals in 75 appearances that prompted interest from further up the league ladder. Not only did he score the most league goals in England during 2018 but also the most headers across Europe.

Duo on the rise

All of a sudden, both Ings, who was sent on loan to continue his recovery at Southampton, and Stockley were netting regularly. The former is helping to fire the Saints away from relegation worries, scoring seven goals in just 15 league appearances to date.

And on 3rd January, Stockley made the £750,000 move to Championship side Preston. He told the club website, "I'm glad I can come here in a rich vein of form and hopefully I can continue that and offer my qualities to this already strong team."

Now is his time to shine.