Memory match: Blackburn v PNE, March 1979

Alex Bruce volleys Preston's winner against Blackburn in March 1979, watched by team-mate Eric Potts

Alex Bruce volleys Preston's winner against Blackburn in March 1979, watched by team-mate Eric Potts

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It might have been 37 years ago but Alex Bruce’s winner for Preston North End in their derby visit to Blackburn is still talked about by Lilywhites supporters of the era with much fondness.

Bruce volleyed the only goal of the Ewood Park clash on March 24, 1979, a victory which stretched North End’s unbeaten league run to 14 matches.

The goal was a cracker, the large following of PNE fans celebrating it wildly, while Granada Television certainly agreed.

They covered the game for their Sunday highlights programme ‘Kick-Off’ and went on to show Bruce’s goal on the closing credits for the rest of that season.

This was Preston’s first season back in the old Second Division after they had dramatically won promotion the previous May.

They had a good first month to the campaign before that gave way to a 10-game run without a win.

However, Preston steadily found their feet and they arrived at Blackburn unbeaten since a late November defeat to Orient.

PNE boss Nobby Stiles gave Graham Bell a debut that afternoon, the flame-haired midfielder having been signed from Oldham.

Bell replaced suspended skipper Sean Haslegrave in midfield, with another recent signing, Steve Elliott, again standing in for the injured Mick Robinson.

Elliott himself only played after passing a late fitness test, Ian Cochrane having been on standby to replace him.

Bruce’s winner came early in the game, after 12 minutes.

New boy Bell floated a diagonal ball up to the striker, one he met on the volley from 25 yards, and it whistled into the top corner of the net.

Speaking earlier this season, Bruce recalled the goal as clear as day.

The Scotsman said: “I scored at the other end of the ground to where the North End supporters were.

“Graham Bell put a ball in and I just sensed their centre-halves were going to miss it.

“I don’t know if I was a bit lucky but I hit the ball really well and it flew into the net.

“The footballs were a lot heavier back then, compared to what they use now.

“To hit a shot as hard as I did, you had to catch it well.

“I shocked myself because I rarely scored from outside the box!”

At the time, Bruce earned much praise from his manager.

Stiles said: “Alex’s goal was a real cracker, it showed just how good he is.

“The goal was good enough to win any game of football.”

North End went on to hold on to their lead with a relative degree of comfort against a Rovers side struggling at the foot of the table.

Don O’Riordan marshalled the centre of defence well, with Brian Taylor catching the eye at right-back.

Rovers winger Noel Brotherston saw a shot blocked in the box by Preston left-back Danny Cameron, while Tony Parkes put an effort wide.

Bruce was not far away from adding to his goal with a chance later in the game, one which went just wide.

North End were to finish the campaign in seventh place, while Blackburn ended bottom of the pile and were relegated.