PNE Fans’ Panel’s John Roper: Wembley verdict

Jermaine Beckford has made himself a legend in the space of one Sunday evening at Wembley
Jermaine Beckford has made himself a legend in the space of one Sunday evening at Wembley
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Well, when it finally came it was certainly worth waiting for, as North End exorcised the ghosts of play-offs past in one of the most one-sided finals I have ever seen.

Preston went about their build-up to this game in a fairly quiet and calm professional manner.

But when the time came to deliver, North End exploded right from the kick-off and simply blew Swindon away.

Solid defending and a steely grittiness in the centre of the park saw all of the players win their own personal battles as we knew they would have to do.

Swindon are stylish and quick on the ball.

But in all honesty this finished up as a men-against-boys game, with hat-trick hero Jermaine Beckford getting most of the plaudits for some excellent finishing throughout the game.

It was much more than a one-man show, though, as pride and passion burst through the badges on those famous white shirts and sent North End proudly back into the Championship after four years in the wilderness.

The game was only two minutes old when North End won a kick on the left-hand side of the box.

Paul Gallagher swept the ball in with his right foot and there was Beckford getting in front of the defender to give North End a dream start and to send the 24,000 fans in White delirious.

North End were closing down well and were first to almost every ball with the Robins desperately trying to get a foothold in the game. A good start became a great start when Paul Huntington was first to a Gallagher ball and, with less than a quarter-of-an-hour gone, we were two up.

I sat there for a while waiting for it to fall apart.

But I need not have worried as North End simply got better and better after letting Swindon back into the game a little.

North End’s dream first half was complete as Beckford came in from the inside-right position and swept the ball beautifully into the net to make it three.

For once the talk on the concourse at half-time was very positive with some predicting five or six.

Indeed, such had been North End’s domination of this game that you just could not see the team in red from Wiltshire getting back into

Once again we started very determinedly after the break and took the game to Swindon with the outstanding John Welsh having an absolute blinder of a game in the middle of the park. The Swindon back three were all over the place as Beckford was put clean through.

But this time he was foiled by an excellent save down to the keeper’s left. The ex-Premier League striker wasn’t to be outdone, though, and the next time he was put through he made no mistake from the inside-left position, to fire across the keeper and into the net.

It was no more than we – and he – deserved as the Lilywhites’ following suddenly realised it was Blackburn and Burnley next season instead of Blackpool and Wigan.

So after 26 years of play-off heartache, North End finally came good on the biggest stage of all. No stage fright this time for Simon Grayson`s boys as the millions watching could not have failed to have been impressed by the most professional of performances from this Preston team. Fair play to our opponents, who remained behind to applaud the boys as they went up to receive the play-off trophy and you can only wish Mark Cooper and his evolving young side good luck for the coming season – they way they play the game deserves some success.

For North End, the work now begins on shaping the side for an assault on the Championship and for the fans an enjoyable summer with second-tier football to look forward two in August. Magnificent!