Ex-PNE coaches back on familiar turf

Alan Irvine (right) and Rob Kelly will be back in Preston on Saturday
Alan Irvine (right) and Rob Kelly will be back in Preston on Saturday
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Former Preston manager Alan Irvine will be back in the Deepdale technical area for PNE’s clash with Blackburn on Saturday.

With him will be Rob Kelly, his No.2 during his 25 months in charge of the Lilywhites.

Irvine and Kelly have joined Blackburn’s backroom staff following the appointment of Paul Lambert as manager.

Straight away, their new jobs bring them back to Preston, as North End and Rovers meet for the first time in 14 years.

Out of the pair, Kelly was the first to join PNE in May 2007.

He was appointed to Paul Simpson’s staff as first-team coach, having previously had a 15-month stint as Leicester City manager.

When Simpson was sacked six months later, Kelly stayed on as assistant to Irvine after the Scotsman’s arrival from Everton.

Together, they helped keep PNE in the Championship, the team having found themselves bottom of the table a few weeks after Irvine joined.

The following season, North End reached the play-offs, a late run of wins seeing them squeeze into sixth place after it looked like a dip in form had blown it.

Sheffield United beat them in the semi-finals 2-1 on aggregate, the first leg at Deepdale ending in a 1-1 draw before the Blades won 1-0 at Bramall Lane.

Preston started the 2009/10 campaign promisingly, their early-season form suggesting another play-off push could be on the cards.

They were unbeaten in their first six league matches but the exit of Sean St Ledger on loan to Middlesbrough ahead of a proposed £4.5m sale, was the beginning of a slide in form.

A run of two wins in 14 games led to Irvine’s sacking on December 29, 2009.

Ironically, the man wielding the axe that day was the then PNE chairman Derek Shaw.

He is now chief executive at Rovers and was involved in the appointment of Lambert and his coaching staff.

Kelly briefly stayed on at Deepdale after Irvine’s exit, overseeing a 7-0 victory over Colchester in the FA Cup.

His own departure came a few days later following the appointment of Darren Ferguson.

Irvine and Kelly teamed up again at Sheffield Wednesday, with Irvine manager and Kelly his assistant for 13 months.

More recently, they worked in tandem at West Bromwich Albion, Irvine in charge there for the first half of last season.

Kelly’s last job was assistant to Uwe Rosler at Leeds, that post ending last month when Rosler was sacked.

At Rovers, Lambert has replaced Gary Bowyer who was sacked at the beginning of last week.

It is his first job since being dismissed as Aston Villa boss nine months ago.

Lambert said: “I’ve had nine months off and really enjoyed my time.

“I did some great things in my time off and saw different teams training, meeting different people.

“The opportunity came up right out of the blue – would I consider it?

“I can’t wait to get started, I feel refreshed and am really looking forward to Saturday’s game.”

PNE and Rovers are locked together in the Championship table on the same number of points.

Rovers are a place higher by virtue of a two-better goal difference.