Memory match: Leeds v PNE
Nugent climbs off the treatment table to score for PNE at Elland Road
Nugent had missed more than two months of action with a fractured metatarsal, the Lilywhites managing to finish fourth without him.
He’d returned to the squad five days earlier for the final game of the regular season, ironically against Leeds.
The few minutes run he got as a substitute that day was sufficient to persuade Billy Davies to start Nugent in the this play-off semi-final first leg.
Nugent repaid that faith by giving North End the lead in a bear-pit of an atmosphere at Elland Road.
Collecting the ball 30 yards from goal, he slalomed into the box and slipped a shot past Leeds keeper Neil Sullivan.
That goal came less than three minutes into the second half and Preston held it until the 74th minute when ex-PNE winger Eddie Lewis curled home a free-kick.
Nugent had been picked in a 4-3-3 system, Brett Ormerod and Danny Dichio also in the attack.
Kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes, motorway traffic having delayed some of PNE’s 5,000 travelling supporters.
The hosts made the early running, with Matt Kilgallon sending a header against the post after meeting a centre from Lewis.
Leeds appealed three times for penalties, all of which were turned down by referee Phil Crossley.
That was later to lead to United boss Kevin Blackwell claiming the game had been ‘too big’ for Mr Crossley to handle.
Nugent fired over the bar after a free-kick had been cleverly worked into his path.
He fared better in the 48th minute though, when he gave North End the lead.
Carlo Nash’s goal kick was flicked on by Jason Jarrett and picked-up by Nugent.
There seemed no danger as he began a run, one which took him into the box.
As he worked the ball on to his right foot 12 yards out, Ormerod came across his path but Nugent still got a shot away and it rolled past Sullivan to the delight of the away fans behind that goal.
Leeds responded with a shot from Liam Miller saved by Nash.
Ormerod then came close to doubling PNE’s lead, his shot from Dichio’s lay-off forcing Sullivan into a fine save.
But their hopes of taking a lead back to Deepdale were dashed in the 74th minute.
Claude Davis fouled Miller outside the box to concede a free-kick.
Lewis curled it up and over the wall and into the top corner despite the best attempts of skipper Graham Alexander to head it off the line.
Much of the post-match talk centred on the decision to play Nugent so soon after his comeback from injury.
Fuelling the interest was a similar injury which Wayne Rooney had suffered in the run-up to the World Cup that summer.
North End boss Davies said: “Playing David Nugent was a massive gameble but he’s such a potential match-winner that I had to take it.”
In another interview post-match, Davies used the phrase ‘job done’ to describe getting something out of the first leg.
His words were turned on their head to suggest he felt North End had a place in the final near enough in the bag.
Unfortunately, Leeds won the return leg at Deepdale four days later 2-0, a game in which the visitors finished with nine men after two red cards.