Dave Seddon's big match verdict
May Day came early at the end of April in Preston and raised a cheer at an otherwise flat Deepdale.
This 1-1 draw with already relegated Rotherham will be filed as forgettable by many.
But for Stevie May, this was a huge stride forward along the road to recovery from a knee injury which threatened to end his career.
When the Scotsman’s right knee buckled at Fulham 17 months ago, three ligaments tore and he suffered a small bone fracture too.
The force of the impact pushed muscle against bone and for three months the threat of not being able to play again hung over him.
A combination of natural healing and the skill of a top surgeon lifted that threat.
May has inched his way back to fitness, three cameo substitute appearances now followed by this start.
He had not started a game for a month before suffering the injury – it was as a sub he was hurt – hence this being a big occasion.
The occasion for May got that bit bigger four minutes before half-time when he found the top corner with a peach of a finish.
It brought PNE level after a display in which they gave the impression the finish line could not come quick enough.
Lifeless and disjointed, they had fallen behind to an early goal from their visitors, a team who had mustered one sorry point on their travels all season until Saturday.
May’s equaliser meant that Rotherham merely doubled the away-day tally rather than take all three points.
So at least PNE avoided the indignity of being beaten by the unhappy travellers from South Yorkshire.
The fact it was May who scored put a coat of gloss on the goal, rather than it being just a routine equaliser.
Otherwise, we would be scratching around for talking points from a contest played at three-quarter pace.
A fifth defeat on the spin was avoided, a run last visited back in the 2002/03 season.
In a bid to jolt his squad into life and out of that losing run, Simon Grayson had put on a film show pre-match.
“We showed the players some clips in the dressing room before the game of some key moments from this year, how we have played free-flowing football, quick football of good quality,” said Grayson.
“We wanted to get that vibe back and forget about the last few results, go and finish the season with a performance like we have produced many times.
“Obviously that didn’t have the effect I would have liked it to as a manager.
“It was not the best way to finish the season at home but we can still be very proud of how we have played at home.
“This season as a whole we have excited the crowd – they have seen some magical performance and some great goals.”
The campaign has become a bit of a struggle only in the last three weeks.
North End’s last win was the 5-0 demolition of Bristol City on April 4, a night they shone.
The defeat to Leeds knocked them and, for me, the real damage was inflicted at Huddersfield.
That last-minute defeat seems to have totally knocked the stuffing and fight out of them.
They have had nothing left in the tank since, the adrenaline has seemingly run dry.
It is a shame because from late September to early April, Grayson’s men were great.
October was very good, so too the run before Christmas.
There were stand-out results in the first few weeks of 2017, notably the wins over Brighton, Brentford and Reading.
When we came away from the big win over Bristol City, did anyone envisage it possibly being the last victory of the campaign?
There is still the visit to Wolves on Sunday to change that statistic, one last chance to summon some energy and raise a cheer.
Injuries and suspensions have hit Preston hard at the wrong time, Tom Clarke, Greg Cunningham, Paul Gallagher and Ben Pearson four names missing at the moment.
Returns for Gallagher and Pearson at Wolves could prove timely in the circumstances.
The team almost selected itself on Saturday, with Alex Baptiste returning from a ban to replace Andy Boyle in the centre of defence.
May’s inclusion was the one surprise, by reason of the last of his three runs as substitute coming at the start of March.
For the Bristol City, Leeds and Huddersfield games, he had not even made the bench.
If there was a right time to give him a run from the start, this was it, there little else but pride to play for.
There were two trains of thought as to how this game could go – either Preston would shoot out of the traps and prey on the shortcomings of Rotherham or the Millers would score early and deflate Deepdale.
The latter happened, the game in the ninth minute when Jon Taylor’s corner was headed out of the box by Alan Browne.
The Irishman chased his own clearance as the ball fell to Richard SMALLWOOD who knocked the ball past Browne and struck home a half-volley from the edge of the box.
It was skipper-for-the-day Aiden McGeady who was at the centre of Preston’s play as they looked for a route back, the on-loan man trying to get on the ball as often as possible to spark a response.
Whether it was a run with the ball or being on set-piece duty, McGeady was there.
It was quite appropriate then that May’s equaliser was rather McGeady-esque.
McGeady’s pass found MAY to the left of the ‘D’ outside the box, the 24-year-old taking a touch before curling a shot into the far top corner.
The second half was pretty much a non-event until the last few minutes, littered with hopeful balls into both boxes.
PNE had two late chances to win it, both falling to Simon Makienok.
The Danish substitute saw Semi Ajayi block his header on the line, then with 89 minutes on the clock, another header from Makienok hit the bar and bounced back into the gloves of keeper Richard O’Donnell.
And so the curtain came down on Deepdale, a good season coming to a tired end.
Chris Maxwell 7
Made decent saves from Taylor and Adeyemi early in each half, while he was good with his handling of crosses.
Tyias Browning 6
Looked a bit off the pace and clearly needs games to regain his sharpness after a two-month play-off.
Alex Baptiste 6
Started at centre-half, had a spell at right-back before finishing in a three-man defence. Steady enough display.
Paul Huntington 6
Part of a defence which was put under quite a lot of pressure in the first half. Got to grips with the game better in the second period.
Tommy Spurr 7
Lively down the left, he got forward early on to set up a chance for May. Defensively he did not let too much get past him.
Tom Barkhuizen 6
Not as effective as in some of his previous games but still showed one or two bursts of speed down the right wing.
Alan Browne 6
Solid enough in midfield but did not provide too much in an attacking sense. Like many of his team-mates just lacked a bit of spark.
Daniel Johnson 6
Slow start to the game but found more of a passing range in the second when PNE were on the front foot.
Aiden McGeady 8
The contest’s best player with much of North End’s play channelled through the skipper. He carried PNE’s creative threat.
Stevie May 7
Marked his first start for 18 months with a superbly-struck equaliser. The goal and start will have been a big psychological boost.
Jordan Hugill 6
Well-marshalled by the Rotherham defence and only got a couple of sights of goal. Service to him was not the best.
Subs used: Callum Robinson 6
Joined the action in a double change after 65 minutes but didn’t make a huge impact.
Daryl Horgan 7
Lively performance, set up a chance for Makienok with a good cross.
Simon Makienok 7
Had a header cleared off the line and saw another hit the bar. Won plenty in the air during his short time on the pitch.
Subs not used: Marnick Vermijl, Ben Pringle, Andy Boyle, Anders Lindegaard.
ROTHERHAM: O’Donnell, Fisher, Wood (Belaid 87), Ajayi, Mattock, Vaulks, Frecklington (Yates 80), Smallwood, Taylor, Adeyemi, Clarke-Harris (Morris 73). Subs (not used): Bray, Burrington, Warren, Bilboe.
11,032 (471 away)