PNE retro match: Late heartache for Preston against Wrexham in the Freight Rover Trophy in 1987

Preston striker John Thomas heads home the equaliser at Wrexham in the Feight Rover Trophy clash at the Racecourse Ground
Preston striker John Thomas heads home the equaliser at Wrexham in the Feight Rover Trophy clash at the Racecourse Ground

Preston North End saw their dream of reaching Wembley ended by Wrexham in February 1987.

Although the main focus was on a promotion push from the Fourth Division - one which was successfully achieved a couple of months later - PNE still fancied their chances of making the final of the Freight Rover Trophy.

Wrexham keeper Chris Pearce clears under pressure from Preston's Sam Allardyce

Wrexham keeper Chris Pearce clears under pressure from Preston's Sam Allardyce

The quarter-final draw pitted them with Wrexham, a side also in the promotion race at the time.

On the night, North End played some good football at the Racecourse Ground but were ultimately undone by the Welsh outfit, losing 2-1.

Having fallen behind in the first half, John Thomas scrambled an equaliser just before the hour.

But five minutes from time, Steve Buxton netted a spectacular winner for the home side.

John Thomas challenges for the ball in the Wrexham penalty box

John Thomas challenges for the ball in the Wrexham penalty box

As ever during the 1986/87 campaign, North End were backed by a good following of their fans for the Tuesday night clash.

PNE boss John McGrath made only one change from the side which had beaten Scunthorpe 2-1 in the league four days earlier.

Thomas returned to the attack after a spell of a month or so on the bench or out of the squad altogether, that something of a mystery as he was leading scorer.

Wrexham went in front in the 25th minute through Nick Hencher, a part-time player who had been drafted into their side.

Preston's David Miller takes the ball into the Wrexham box

Preston's David Miller takes the ball into the Wrexham box

A big goalkick from Chris Pearce was flicked on and Bob Atkins moved to clear.

But the normally reliable defender failed to control the bouncing ball and Hencher stole in, firing a low shot past PNE keeper Alan Kelly.

At the other end, Pearce produced a fine save to keep out a shot from David Miller.

North End should have equalised in the 28th minute when Gary Brazil’s corner was met by Sam Allardyce.

His header was blocked by Pearce and bounced into the path of Alex Jones.

But with an open goal in front of him, the centre-half sliced his shot wide from four yards.

Preston eventually pulled level just before the hour.

A scramble in the penalty box followed a corner and eventually Thomas forced the ball over the line via a touch from Pearce.

By now North End were in the ascendancy and it took a fine save from Pearce to push away Miller’s 20-yard shot in the 67th minute.

The visitors had a spell of five corners in 90 seconds but were unable to make their pressure count.

As the clock ticked on, Wrexham started to offer more of a threat.

Kelly was forced into a fine save from Barry Horne before the hosts notched their winner five minutes from time.

A cross from Paul Emson was punched out by Kelly but the ball feel to Buxton just inside the box who struck home an unstoppable volley.

Two months later, PNE returned to the Racecourse Ground in the league and drew 1-1 – two games later they were promoted after a 2-1 win at Orient.


PNE: Kelly, McNeil, Jones, Allardyce, Atkins, Bennett, Swann, Chapman, Miller, Brazil, Thomas. Subs (not used): Jemson, Hildersley.

Attendance: 2,193