Preston North End retro game: Victory in top-of-the-table clash with Northampton edges PNE closer to promotion
If there was a game which convinced Preston North End supporters that their team was on course to earn promotion in the 1986/87 campaign, it was a Friday night victory over Northampton Town.
An attendance of 16,456 was inside Deepdale on April 3, 1987, to see an early Gary Brazil goal settle this top-of-the-table clash in the Lilywhites’ favour.
Northampton arrived in Lancashire as the runaway leaders of Division Four.
All they needed from this clash was a point to ensure promotion but they departed empty-handed.
PNE’s win reduced the gap between themselves and the Cobblers to 14 points, at the same time strengthening their own promotion hopes.
Promotion was won three weeks later on a memorable afternoon at Orient, this win over Northampton giving it an air of inevitability.
The game kicked-off 10 minutes late such were the queues at the turnstiles.
It was Preston’s biggest league gate for a non-derby game since 1978.
The majority inside the ground didn’t have long to wait to celebrate a goal.
Seven minutes were on the clock when Alex Jones’ challenge halted the run of Town striker Ian Benjamin.
Jones, such an assured figure in PNE’s back five that season, had the presence of mind to lift a fine ball over the Northampton defence for Brazil to chase.
Brazil reached it outside the box, took a few strides forward before shooting past goalkeeper Peter Gleasure.
Soon after, Gleasure had to be at his best to deny Brazil a second goal.
The keeper was at it again, saving well from midfielder Oshor Williams, while Les Chapman sent a shot flying just wide.
Northampton went on the attack straight from the off in the second half.
But North End’s defence held firm and the home side carried a threat on the break.
A mad scramble in the goalmouth almost saw them score a second, Jones, Brazil and Williams all having shots blocked after John Thomas had broken clear to set the chance up.
As the game wore on, the visitors upped the pressure.
Teenage goalkeeper Alan Kelly made a fine double save from Richard Hill.
Then Kelly tipped a 30-yard shot from Benjamin over the bar.
Peter Zelem, on loan from Wolves to cover an injury for Sam Allardyce, twice got in vital blocks.
Late on, North End broke down the right-wing through Brazil. His cross found Thomas in the box but the striker’s header whistled just wide.
Preston manager John McGrath said: “What a night that was.
“It was wonderful to see the ground so full and even better that the game let no one down. Both teams were fully committed and it made for a thrilling clash.
“Northampton threw everything at us and the fact we managed to keep a clean sheet is a credit to everyone.
“Northampton have the best scoring record around and we stopped them adding to it.”
PNE: Kelly, McNeil, Jones, Atkins, Zelem, Bennett, Chapman, Swann, Williams, Thomas, Brazil. Unused sub: Worthington.