PNE’s year of progress

Tom Clarke's winner against Blackpool
Tom Clarke's winner against Blackpool
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Preston North End supporters will not forget 2013 in a hurry.

The year saw the end of ‘medal-winner’ Graham Westley, the arrival of Simon Grayson and the marquee signing of Kevin Davies hit the headlines.

And what about the evening of Monday, August 5, when Tom Clarke put the ball in the Blackpool net and earned himself the unofficial freedom of Preston?

It was a year in which deep despair and frustration gave way to what is looking like an exciting new dawn for the Lilywhites.

Steadily, Grayson has calmed the waters after the Westley tidal wave, and built a squad which is slap-bang in the League One promotion mix.

Fingers crossed, the 10 months of progress made in 2013 can continue in 2014.

January: The year started on a winning note as a John Mousinho header gave North End a 1-0 victory over Hartlepool on a blustery Teesside coast.

Hope sprung eternal that it was the start of a good run of form after a difficult couple of months.

In fact it was to be the last win which Graham Westley had as Preston manager.

While a 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup at Millwall was hardly a disgrace, the Johnston’s Paint Trophy exit to Coventry put Westley on a slippery slope.

North End led 2-1 at the Ricoh Arena going into stoppage time, only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and go down 3-2.

In their next game, they were beaten 3-1 at home by Walsall, the visitors complaining of a spot of dressing room sabotage to boot.

January ended with a 2-2 draw against Coventry on a Deepdale pitch which resembled a mud flat due to regular training sessions being held on it.

FEBRUARY: Shrewsbury were the first opponents of what proved to be a pivotal month for North End.

Rumour had it that the Westley era had three games to run, and that particular train of thought proved spot on.

Shrewsbury won 2-1 at Deepdale, their winner coming late on from the penalty spot.

A tame surrender the following week at Colchester saw PNE beaten 1-0 and all attention went on the Shrove Tuesday trip to Yeovil Town.

It was Westley’s last stand, Chris Beardsley giving the visitors a 1-0 lead before a late collapse saw them beaten 3-1.

Fifteen hours later Westley met his Waterloo in the shape of the Preston board, who sacked him over morning coffee at Waterloo Station.

With Dino Maamria also going through the exit door, coach John Dreyer was appointed caretaker manager for the home game with leaders Bournemouth.

The form book suggested an uphill task against the Cherries, but first-half goals from Stuart Beavon and Bailey Wright delivered a 2-0 win.

In the crowd that afternoon was Glynn Snodin, right-hand man to a holidaying Simon Grayson.

From the moment time was called on Westley, it seemed that Grayson was the No.1 choice to succeed him.

Grayson was appointed PNE manager on February 18 with his first game in charge coming at Swindon the following Saturday.

Will Hayhurst scored in a 1-1 draw, with almost 1,000 Preston supporters making the trip to the County Ground.

mARCH: Hayhurst scored again in North End’s 1-1 draw at MK Dons at the beginning of March, before Grayson tasted victory for the first time against Stevenage – Lee Holmes and Hayhurst on target.

A 1-0 win at Notts County followed, before PNE went down to defeat to a last-minute penalty at Brentford on Gentry Day.

But the ship was being steadied, with two more points collected from home draws against Leyton Orient and Portsmouth.

The loan window closed without Grayson doing any business, the PNE boss deciding to keep his powder dry in the transfer market until the summer.

APRIL: North End lost 1-0 at Crewe on Easter Monday, but consecutive home wins over Scunthorpe, Oldham and Tranmere, coupled with a draw at Carlisle, saw a healthy points return.

Nicky Wroe’s goal from 45 yards in the Scunthorpe game was to win him the goal of the season award. The campaign ended with a goalless draw at Sheffield United.

Skipper John Welsh won the Player of the Year award, with Bailey Wright named Young Player of the Year.

Grayson’s retained list contained few surprises, with Luke Foster released, while Chris Robertson, Chris Beardsley and Andy Procter were made available for transfer.

MAY: North End began their close-season shopping with the Bosman signing of Tom Clarke, who had been released by Huddersfield.

Clarke was followed to the club by Chris Humphrey, PNE beating off competition from Leeds, Reading and Rangers for the Motherwell winger.

Goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann signed a new two-year contract, as did Bailey Wright.

JUNE: Will Hayhurst signed a new contract and Declan Rudd agreed a season-long loan with North End from Norwich after performing so well in the second half of last season.

It emerged that Preston were one of several clubs interested in signing Kevin Davies, who was a free agent after being released by Bolton.

PNE were the first club to speak to the striker but faced competition from Sheffield Wednesday, Burnley, Millwall and Middlesbrough, while there was trans-Atlantic interest from the MLS too.

The squad reported back for training at the end of June, Iain Hume back in the ranks after spending the 2012/13 campaign on loan at Doncaster.

But at that stage, it still looked like Hume’s future lay away from Deepdale.

JULY: Preston pulled off a real coup by agreeing a deal with Kevin Davies.

He put pen to paper on a two-year contract after holding further talks with Grayson.

On the same day Davies signed, North End also announced that Hume would be staying with the club.

Davies was introduced to the PNE supporters before the opening pre-season friendly game against Liverpool.

A crowd of more than 21,000 clicked through the Deepdale turnstiles on a red-hot day, with the visitors winning 4-0.

Davies bow in a North End shirt came in the 4-0 defeat at Fleetwood, a game which saw Joe Garner sent-off for violent conduct.

AUGUST: Preston kicked off the new season with a creditable goalless draw at home to title favourites Wolves in front of a 16,593 crowd.

Two days later, they played host to arch rivals Blackpool in the first round of the Capital One Cup. A tense but entertaining clash looked to be heading for extra-time until Preston won an 87th-minute free-kick.

Lee Holmes chipped it into the box and Clarke arrived at the back post to steer a header past the Seasiders goalkeeper.

Three sides of Deepdale went mad and fans spilled on to the pitch at the final whistle to celebrate.

In the league, draws against Rotherham, MK Dons and Coventry followed – the game against Coventry finishing in a remarkable 4-4 draw.

North End’s first league win of the campaign arrived on the final day of August, goals from Joel Byrom, Holmes and Humphrey delivering a 3-0 away win at Walsall.

SEPTEMBER: Preston won all their four games this month to earn Grayson the League One Manager of the Month award.

Oldham were beaten 2-1 in front of the Sky cameras, then Westley’s return to Deepdale with Stevenage was an unhappy one for him as North End won 3-0.

On September 21, a Beavon goal gave Preston their first win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane for more than 35 years.

The month was rounded off with a 2-1 victory over Swindon, Hume notching his first goal of the season.

OCTOBER: The manager of the month curse struck as PNE lost their first three games of October.

Two Rudd mistakes handed Peterborough a 2-0 win at London Road, then Oldham and Crewe both won at Deepdale in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and league respectively.

But the Lilywhites bounced back with a 2-1 away win over Gillingham.

Making his full debut that afternoon in Kent was Josh Brownhill, and the teenager marked the occasion by scoring PNE’s second goal.

A thoroughly entertaining 2-2 home draw with Bradford followed, before Hume came off the bench to net the winner at Notts County.

NOVEMBER: Grayson strengthened his squad with the loan signing of Paul Gallagher from Leicester.

He made his second PNE debut in the 1-1 draw against Tranmere, Garner heading a stoppage-time equaliser.

That was to be the start of a purple patch in front of goal for the striker nicknamed ‘The Jackal’.

Gallagher netted a hat-trick to help see off Barnet 6-0 in the FA Cup.

On November 16, North End travelled to East London to face table-topping Leyton Orient, who were unbeaten since February at Brisbane Road.

A superb Garner volley saw PNE run out 1-0 winners in front of 1,190 noisy travelling supporters.

Garner scored the following week in a 1-1 draw against Colchester, then twice in a 2-0 win at Port Vale.

In a case of mistaken identity, team-mate Neil Kilkenny was sent off 
instead of Garner before he netted.

DECEMBER: A wonder strike from Davies saw PNE past Wycombe in the FA Cup.

The following week they surrendered a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 at Crawley, then a pre-Christmas wobble saw North End beaten 3-0 at Deepdale by a powerful Brentford side.

But Grayson’s men showed good powers of recovery from that defeat.

Backed by a sell-out 1,773 away section at Brunton Park, they beat Carlisle 1-0 on Boxing Day, Brownhill finishing a flowing move which saw all 10 outfield players involved.

Three days later, the away end at Greenhous Meadow was sold out, with 1,598 North Enders seeing another 1-0 win.

Shrews right-back Ryan Woods put through his own goal as he tried to clear a Hume cross.

The year had ended as it had begun, with a 1-0 away victory but with far more optimism.