Nearly four weeks after Preston North End’s triumph at Wembley, a smile still spreads across the face of Simon Grayson as he reflects on a job well done.
Holidays, a charity bike and getting plans put in place for next season, means that it has only been this week that the PNE manager has watched all of the 4-0 play-off final victory over Swindon on DVD.
“I hadn’t had two minutes to spare to watch the whole game back,” Grayson told the Evening Post.
“Of course I had seen clips of it – the goals and the scenes at the end when we won and celebrated.
“The memories of the final will stay with me forever – it was a fantastic occasion.
“When I look back, the most pleasing aspect from my point of view and that of a coaching staff, is that so much hard work which went in over the 10 days beforehand, paid off.
“To see a plan carried out spot-on in any game, especially a big final with so much at stake, is very satisfying.
“The players understood what we wanted them to do, they were doing it for the team and not as individuals.”
Grayson has revealed some of the tactical planning and preparation which went into their Wembley clash.
Two different formations were used in training – a 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 – and he opted for the 4-3-3 in the final.
What also came into the thinking was the fitness, or otherwise, of Swindon skipper Nathan Thompson who started the game less than a fortnight after tearing a hamstring.
Said Grayson: “We talked about the need to test Nathan Thompson early in the game because we didn’t think he would be 100% fit coming off the injury he had.
“That proved to be the case with what happened for our first goal.
“After beating Chesterfield in the semi-final second leg on the Sunday, we went on to have three practice matches on the Deepdale pitch.
“One of the teams would always play a 3-5-2 as if they were Swindon.
“We played two halves and would use a different system in each one – we tried 3-5-2 as if we were matching Swindon up and the 4-3-3, which we played at Wembley.
“I decided that the 4-3-3 with Paul Gallagher on the left-hand side, would be more suited to combating them.
“I felt we needed someone on that side to deal with Nathan Byrne, who we thought was their major threat.
“We wanted a three-man midfield so we wouldn’t be overloaded, while we thought we would get chances if they played three versus two or two versus two against our strikers.
“It ended up being the same team that had started the second leg of the semi-final but it was still a big decision.
“There would have been different personnel involved had we gone with the 3-5-2 because they would have suited the system better.”
Grayson believes that PNE’s play-off record previous to the final, might even have taken some pressure off his squad.
“People kept talking about our play-off history and I kept saying that records were there to be broken,” said Grayson.
“As much as I was desperate to break the hoodoo and believed that we could do, I had to make sure that the lads believe they could be the first Preston players to get through the play-offs.
“After what happened at Colchester on the final day, some people doubted us in the play-offs.
“Maybe people being a bit negative made us a bit more relaxed, if that makes sense.”