Play-off history on PNE’s side...after all

North End fans on the pitch after victory over Torquay in 1994
North End fans on the pitch after victory over Torquay in 1994
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The play-offs have caused Preston North End much heartache over the last 26 years but a delve into the history books offers a glimmer of joy when it comes to end-of-season knockouts.

It was in 1987 that the Football League introduced the play-offs, PNE first qualifying for them two years later when they finished sixth in the old Third Division.

But way back in the 1890s, a play-off format was put in place after the league introduced a second division.

They were called Test Matches and were used to decide promotion and relegation.

In the 1893/94 season, PNE finished third-bottom of the First Division and had to play Notts County from the Second Division in a one-off Test.

It was played at neutral Olive Grove in Sheffield, home at the time of Sheffield Wednesday before their move to Hillsborough.

North End won 4-0 to preserve their First Division status thanks to goals from Jimmy Ross, John Cunningham George Drummond, and Adam Henderson.

Simon Grayson hopes to become the first PNE manager of the modern era to lead a successful play-off quest.

He admits that until the club win promotion through the play-offs, it is always going to be the elephant in the room.

Asked whether it is a topic he can steer his players away from, Grayson said: “Do you think they will be able to get away from it?

“ With social media, it is always going to be there.

“Every time they walk down the street in Preston someone will remind them of it. But that should be the motivation and the inspiration to say, ‘Right, let’s be the team to do it’.

“There is a stat, someone told me, that we did win a play-off, or a Test match as it was called, in 1894 so there isn’t a hoodoo! We are not going to be worried about this opportunity.

“We have got to embrace it and make sure we handle it in the correct manner.

“Players will be aware of this stat but ultimately they have played no significant part in it in the past.

“Players that played in it last year will still be feeling the disappointment and again it’s a motivational tool for them to use. We are confident and prepared for what we need to do.”

North End have won only three of their 21 play-off games to date.

They beat Torquay 4-1 in 1994, Birmingham 2-1 six years later and Derby 2-0 in 2005.

All three of those games were at Deepdale and all led to the Lilywhites reaching the final.

The Torquay win 21 years ago was dramatic and was the last game played on plastic, before the Deepdale carpet was ripped up.

Trailing 2-0 from the first leg at Plainmoor, Tony Ellis got an early goal to halve the aggregate deficit.

A Torquay equaliser put the tie back in their grip before David Moyes headed Preston in front again on the night.

Stuart Hicks made it 3-1 to take the game into extra-time, during which Paul Raynor scored to send North End to Wembley.

The win over Birmingham on penalties in 2001 will live long in the memory – Mark Rankine’s dramatic late goal and a meltdown from Trevor Francis.