Nobby’s PNE boys were short on flair

Nobby Stiles was manager when Preston won 1-0 at Sheffield United
Nobby Stiles was manager when Preston won 1-0 at Sheffield United
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MEMORY MATCH: Sheffield United v PNE, November 1978

Preston North End’s visit to Bramall Lane in November 1978 saw them record their first away victory of that season.

A second-half strike from Alex Bruce was enough to beat Sheffield United and ease the pressure which had been building on boss Nobby Stiles.

North End had found life tough in the Second Division after earning promotion six months earlier, meaning a few fingers were being pointed in Stiles’ direction.

The World Cup winner need not have worried about his job though.

This win was one of three on the bounce and, although PNE were beaten by Orient a couple of weeks later, his players then put together a 15-game unbeaten run in the league.

Eventually they were to finish seventh in the table, a very good achievement for their first season back at his level.

Blades manager Harry Haslam was later to lament his side’s inability to break down a resolute Preston defence.

And he felt that the visitors had not played their part in trying to provide the 14,807 crowd with entertainment.

However, the travelling North End supporters were not complaining as they saw signs of their team beginning to head in the right direction.

Haslam said: “The game was like a tennis match. There were so many long balls that I became tired and I wasn’t even chasing them.

“That suited Preston because all they wanted to do was kick the ball out of their defence.

“They proved their point and concentrated on one-to-one man-marking. Good luck to Nobby but it was shocking stuff.

“I don’t know if Preston will avoid the drop because it is difficult to judge from one game and the picture could change again.”

The picture did indeed change – it was United who were actually relegated at the end of that season, while North End finished in a healthy state.

It was the home side who largely bossed the first half, Peter Anderson seeing a shot cleared off the line by PNE left-back Danny Cameron after it had beaten keeper Roy Tunks.

That said, Bruce put a shot against the bar after Preston had caught the Blades on the break.

The contest’s only goal came in the 63rd minute, Mick Robinson getting down the right and sending over a cross which was met by Ricky Thomson.

His shot was blocked by a defender but Bruce was first to the loose ball to hook a shot over keeper Steve Conroy.

United, whose midfield featured Alex Sabella – coach of Argentina at last summer’s World Cup – pressed for an equaliser in the closing stages.

The closest they came was a shot from substitute Imre Varadi which Tunks saved.

Stiles said: “It was the first away game in which we had not conceded.

“We kept things simple and we were able to hit them on the break.”