Defeat to Colchester on final day was first in league since January
24 May ~ Preston North End are making their tenth appearance in the play-offs but have never yet secured promotion in this manner. This has left many North End fans nervous and quite a few pessimistic about our chances but in this context our history means nothing. We once won an FA Cup tie 26-0 but I never expect us to repeat that feat so why can’t we overcome our previous – admittedly abysmal – record in the play-offs?
Prior to this season we hadn’t won an away leg until we defeated Chesterfield at the Proact Stadium. We then equalled our biggest winning margin in the second leg and recorded our highest aggregate victory over the two games.
We have never dropped back into the play-offs before, which we did after our last day debacle at Colchester, and that seems to have acted as a spur to the players to show that they are not chokers. We have never had a manager who has taken a club up through the play-offs before but we do now in Simon Grayson. The majority of the coaching staff and players were here last season when we lost to Rotherham but there is no one who has been here for all nine unsuccessful attempts.
Except of course for the fans – and here lies the root of all the nervousness and trepidation. A significant number of supporters have stated they don’t want to experience the disappointment of failure again and some won’t be travelling to Wembley on Sunday. That is understandable to an extent but surely disappointment is part and parcel of being a football fan and there is enough evidence to suggest we can finally put this particular hoodoo to rest.
Prior to the Colchester match we had been 18 league games unbeaten and we have only lost once in the last 21. We have recorded 12 league wins away from Deepdale and kept clean sheets in 11 of them so Wembley should hold no fears. The Colchester game was the first time we had failed to score in a league game since November and we have two strikers in Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford with 42 goals in 73 appearances, despite both having significant periods out injured. Our defence has been resolute virtually all season and we have a good balance of grit and flair in midfield.
Of course it depends which team plays better on the day and I will be as nervous as any other North End fan. But our history is there to be rewritten and it is time we did just that. Martin Atherton