Victory in the League One play-off final is payback time for Preston North End’s long-suffering supporters.
That is the view of midfielder Neil Kilkenny, who played an integral role in North End’s 4-0 romp over Swindon Town at Wembley.
For many of the Deepdale faithful, it was getting to the stage where they were beginning to believe that the club was cursed. Nine play-off disappointments in the club’s recent past were compounded even further by PNE’s inability to seal an automatic promotion spot on the final day of the season.
But North End bounced back from that particular set-back by finally smashing their play-off hoodoo – at the 10th time of trying.
A 4-0 aggregate victory over Chesterfield in the semi-finals was followed by a virtuoso performance in the final against the Robins.
And Kilkenny – who was in impressive form on the Wembley turf – said it was nothing more than the PNE supporters deserved.
“The fans have been brilliant all season, despite everything that has happened,” Kilkenny said.
“We had the heartbreak of the last game of the season and missing out on automatic promotion.
“We also had the disappointment of losing in the semi-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy when we could have played at Wembley in the final if we had won.
“The fans were reminding us about the play-off hoodoo in the week leading up to Wembley, so we are really happy that we were able to end that and send them home happy.”
Kilkenny felt the victory over Swindon – who finished in fourth spot in the final League One table -– was one of North End’s finest performances of the season.
Jermaine Beckford scored a fantastic hat-trick and Paul Huntington also notched as PNE enjoyed one of their greatest days in recent memory in the capital.
“It was a fantastic performance from the lads. From the first minute to the very last minute, we played really well,” he said.
“The night before the game, we were sitting there in the hotel and we talked about the importance of getting off to a good start and luckily we did that.
“We knew that they were a good passing team and so we knew a good start would help us feel our way into the game.
“We managed to score after a couple of minutes of the game and moved on from there.
“We were able to hit them on the break and it could have been any score at the end. I feel for Swindon because I have been in their position only a few years ago.
“It will be a massive disappointment for them to lose in the play-off final.
“They deserve a lot of respect because they have performed brilliantly over the course of the season.
“For us, everybody played their part in a great win.
“Jermaine takes all the plaudits because of his finishing and rightly so.
“But as a team, we did really well and, over the course of the game, we thoroughly deserved to win.”
Although North End ended up as convincing winners, Kilkenny concedes the outcome of the match hinged on a couple of big moments which ocurred within a matter of seconds of each other mid-way through the first half.
Michael Smith somehow missed a point-blank header shortly before half-time and immediately from the re-start, Beckford gave North End a 3-0 lead.
“That’s the fine margins of football,” Kilkenny said.
“Just a minute before our third goal, they had a great chance.
“Obviously they missed it and we went straight up the other end and scored, with Jermaine getting a great goal.
“But like I say those are the fine margins which can have a big bearing on the outcome of games.
“Fortunately, we came out on the right side of those margins in the final.”
It was in 2009 that Kilkenny – who has been capped 14 times by Australia – lost at Wembley in Leeds United’s colours – beaten by Doncaster Rovers in the League One play-off final.
“For me, winning at Wembley is a dream come true,” he said. “Just to play there is a dream come true.
“It was the second time I have played there and obviously the first time there I lost, so to win this time makes me really happy.”
“I would say the win on Sunday is right up there as one of the biggest highlights of my career.”
Kilkenny is now looking forward to pitting his wits in the Championship again next season. It is a division he is very familiar with, having played there for both Leeds and Birmingham City in the past.
He sees no reason why the Lilywhites cannot push on and have a crack at winning promotion to the Premier League next year.
He said: “Preston is a Championship club I feel – if not a Premier League club.
“When you look at the facilities, the stadium and the backing we have got from the owner, the club is set up to be a success.
“Obviously, we needed to go up. We’ve done that and hopefully now we can push on again.
“Teams like Brentford and Wolves proved this season that you can do well in the Championship straight away after winning promotion.”