Memory match: Preston North End’s second-half blast swept aside Sheffield Wednesday
A gee-up from David Moyes over a half-time cuppa proved the way forward for Preston against Sheffield Wednesday at Deepdale in February 2001.
The Owls had proved a tough nut to crack in the first half of this clash, their 4-5-1 system smothering all of what PNE had to offer.
But within seven minutes of the start of the second half, the home side were 2-0 to the good thanks to goals from Paul McKenna and Jonathan Macken.
This victory was to form a sequence of seven wins in nine games during February and March which propelled North End into contention for the play-offs.
It saw them recover well from a sticky patch of results in the winter.
They were to go on and reach the play-off final against Bolton Wanderers as the Millennium Stadium, that last task proving just a step too far. The talk after winning this game centred on the fact it took them to the 53-point mark – generally regarded as the total needed for safety.
Little did they know at the time how much further they would push on.
Moyes lined up North End up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Bjarki Gunnlaugsson coming in for his first start of 2001 and only the fourth of the campaign.
Wednesday had looked the better side in a first half of few chances.
The closest Preston went was a long-range free-kick from McKenna which Kevin Pressman dived to save.
At the other end, Colin Murdock got himself in the way of Trond Soltvedt’s shot to block.
Whatever Moyes said at the interval worked a treat, with his side taking the lead in the 49th minute.
Graham Alexander sent over a cross from the right which skimmed the head of Carlton Palmer and fell to Rob Edwards.
The PNE left-back laid the ball back into McKenna’s path, the midfielder sending a screamer of a right-foot shot into the top corner.
Within three minutes they had their second goal.
Edwards was involved again, getting down the left and putting over a cross to find Gunnlaugsson.
The Icelandic striker met it with a glancing header which was going wide until Macken slid in at the far post to score.
David Healy could have made it 3-0 just after but with Macken unmarked and well placed to receive a pass, the Irishman had a shot himself and saw it cannon off an Owls defender.
As the hour mark neared, Gunnlaugsson was replaced by Sean Gregan who was returning after injury.
Gregan’s presence gave North End a tighter look as they reverted to 4-4-2.
Macken could have made absolutely certain of victory in the 81st minute.
McKenna’s free-kick was headed into the middle of the box by Murdock but Macken could only send a header wide when slightly off balance.
Wednesday almost pulled a goal back in the last minute.
Des Walker delivered a free-kick into the box, one which striker Efan Ekoku flung himself forward to meet.
His diving header hit the underside of the bar and was hacked clear by Edwards as it bounced down in the six-yard box.
It meant a fourth clean sheet in five games for Teuvo Moilanen since he had returned to the side.
The Finnish goalkeeper had kept a club record 28 clean sheets the campaign before as the Lilywhites won the Second Division title.