Memory Match: Preston North End beat West Bromwich Albion in May 2001 as both sides prepare for the play-offs

Preston North End and West Bromwich met on the final day of the 2000/01 season at Deepdale in a contest which both were hoping could be a dress rehearsal for the play-off final later that month.

Sunday, 1st December 2019, 11:45 am
Sean Gregan celebrates after opening the scoring for Preston against West Bromwich Albion at Deepdale in May 2001
Sean Gregan celebrates after opening the scoring for Preston against West Bromwich Albion at Deepdale in May 2001

Both sides had already booked their places in the play-offs, with PNE already knowing they would face Birmingham.

Ahead of the Baggies was a two-legged clash with Bolton Wanderers.

With those games in mind, both sides were missing key players for this clash.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sean Gregan flicks home Preston's first goal against West Bromwich Albion

North End left top scorer Jonathan Macken out of the squad, the Baggies doing likewise with their main threat Lee Hughes.

So potentially this game could have turned out to be something of a non-event.

Far from it. Tackles flew in, it got a bit tasty and North End ran out 2-1 winners with Sean Gregan and Graham Alexander on target.

Deepdale, three-sided at the time after the Town End had been demolished, was packed to the rafters.

Graham Alexander scores from the penalty spot against West Bromwich Albion at Deepdale in May 2001

Some of the home fans in a 16,226 crowd wore Tam o’shanter hats in honour of David Moyes’ Scottish roots, a thank-you to the manager for guiding PNE into the top six in their first season back at this level since 1981.

Before kick-off, North End skipper Gregan had been presented with the club’s goal of the season award for his 51-yard shot at Norwich.

So it was appropriate that it was Gregan who opened the scoring in this one, although from much close range than his award-winner at Carrow Road.

There were less than three minutes on the clock when a Richard Cresswell shot was deflected behind for a corner.

Ryan Kidd and Sean Gregan in the thick of the action for PNE against West Brom

When Alexander’s corner was cleared back out to him, the right-back returned it low into the middle where Gregan flicked it past keeper Russell Hoult from five yards.

Albion responded by having a purple patch of play and very much getting the upper hand.

David Lucas was kept busy, one of his saves being to prevent team-mate Adam Eaton slicing a clearance into his own net.

The visitors equalised in the 31st minute, Ryan Kidd’s foul on Jason Roberts seeing a free-kick awarded.

Preston players applaud the fans at Deepdale after beating West Bromwich Albion

Gregan in frustration lashed the ball away and the referee moved the free-kick forward 10 yards as was the rule then.

Neil Clement, who had been on loan at Preston a couple of seasons before, curled the free-kick round the wall and past Lucas.

There were chances for both sides either side of the interval. In first-half stoppage-time, Cresswell was denied by a fine save from Hoult.

At the other end in the opening exchanges of the second half, Lucas spread himself to save from Jason Roberts who had got clear of the Preston back four.

The Lilywhites regained the lead in the 52nd minute and this time kept hold of it.

Alexander’s cross from the right-wing struck Jason Van Blerk on the arm but referee David Laws ignored the appeal for a penalty.

But when David Healy’s follow-up shot hit the same player on the hand, this time Mr Laws pointed to the spot.

Alexander stepped up and hammered the penalty down the middle with Hoult diving to his right.

History shows that PNE made it through to the play-final having beaten Birmingham in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.

The Baggies came up short against Bolton in the other semi-final, with Wanderers then beating Moyes’ men 3-0 at the Millennium Stadium.