EX-PNE SKIPPER SEAN GREGAN’S COLUMN
What a huge night it is for Preston North End as they head to the New York Stadium for their play-off second leg against Rotherham United.
It is sink or swim over there, the season either ends tonight or they go to Wembley to face Leyton Orient in the final later this month.
I am sure that there will be a mixture of excitement and nerves from players and fans alike ahead of the game.
The fans will probably be feeling the nerves more than the players because of North End’s past record in the play-offs.
But now is not the time to dwell on that, it is about what happens on the pitch once the whistle is blown tonight.
I always felt that Rotherham would be the toughest play-off opponents and I stand by that.
They were the side in form towards the end of the season and scored a lot of goals.
Steve Evans will have them fired up this evening, just as Simon Grayson will have PNE up for it.
Don’t overlook Preston’s away record – that could be critical this evening.
Yes, the results on the road dipped a little towards the end of the season but 11 away wins is still impressive.
Rotherham will be aware of that record and it could play on their minds a bit. It is unlikely that the game will be won or lost in the first 20 minutes, with the sides likely to be sizing one another up in the early stages.
There will probably be an early burst from Rotherham as they look to get the crowd behind them, and it is up to Preston to handle that, slow the pace down if necessary.
It might not be until some way into the second half that the game begins to open up and gaps begin to appear.
Away from home, North End have been very good at exploiting those gaps and it is a case of finding that killer pass or piece of sharpness in the penalty box.
Sometimes you need a goal out of nothing, Joe Garner’s first leg strike an example of that.
The PNE supporters who got their hands on tickets for tonight’s game, will have a big part to play.
Rotherham’s fans will be in good out in force but Preston’s away following is always in good voice and I’m sure they will get right behind the lads.
One of my most memorable nights in a North End shirt was the play-off semi-final second leg against Birmingham 13 years ago.
If there is the same tension and excitement this evening as there was that night, then we are in for a treat. It was a bit different to tonight, in that the onus was on us to attack.
We were the home side and were 1-0 behind from the first leg at St Andrew’s.
But with strikers like Jon Macken, David Healy and Richard Cresswell in our squad, we were always confident of scoring.
Healy scored quite early on, then Birmingham equalised, before the finest of margins swung things our way.
The ball ran across our goal-line after one of their players had got room down the side of the box.
We worked it away from danger and up to their box and suddenly there was Mark Rankine knocking the ball over the line from close range!
You know the rest – extra time didn’t produce another goal and we went through on penalties.
The nerves will be jangling if the same happens tonight!