If anyone doubted that Jermaine Beckford had been League One’s bargain loan deal of the season before Sunday’s play-off final, than they would have changed their minds after seeing his performance at Wembley.
The Preston striker became only the third player in play-off history to score a hat-trick in the final as the Lilywhites cruised to a 4-0 win over Swindon.
Beckford’s goal tally during his loan spell with North End rocketed to 18 thanks to this treble.
Three had come in the two semi-final ties with Chesterfield but they just acted as a starter course for the main dish served up under the Wembley arch.
He netted PNE’s opener inside the second minute, then scored a peach of a goal on the stroke of half-time to make it 3-0 – in between was a Paul Huntington strike from close range.
Just before the hour mark, Beckford was put clear by Joe Garner to steer home his hat-trick and put the tin lid on victory.
Beckford said: “We knew it was going to be a tough game and we got that despite the scoreline.
“It just shows the work rate and application which we put in. We did a fantastic job and have come out on top to get promotion.”
Beckford joined North End on loan from Bolton in November, joining in a deal for the rest of the season.
Three goals came from him in December and January before he was struck down by a severe inner ear infection.
That sidelined him for more than a month, the player readily admitting that retirement crossed his mind after being bed-ridden for three weeks.
If retirement was radical, it certainly cast doubt on his loan spell with North End running the full course.
Thankfully, Beckford recovered and came off the bench to score in the 4-0 win at Oldham Athletic on February 28 – his comeback game.
He has not really stopped scoring since then, that goal against Oldham the first of 15 in less than three months.
With strike partner Garner topping the division’s scoring list with 27 goals in all competitions, little wonder the pair were regarded as the most feared striker force at this level.
Beckford makes no secret of how much he respects Simon Grayson and Glynn Snodin.
They worked with him at Leeds United successfully, took him to Huddersfield on loan and were reunited a third time when he came to Deepdale.
“The gaffer makes me a happy person, I owe him a lot,” said Beckford.
“We have a fantastic relationship and it is nice to score the goal after he showed the faith to bring me here.
“After what happened with the illness earlier in the season, I just count every day and every game as being a blessing.
“It was not a good time for me but I came through it and to round the season off like this is special.”
Beckford is out of contract with parent club Bolton and the Wanderers have already told him he will not be getting a new deal at the Macron Stadium.
PNE will look to sign him on a permanent deal amid reported interest from Leeds and Wigan, but the special relationship with Grayson may just be the key.