Preston North End retro - PNE's 1996 Third Division title celebrations

Preston North End hosted their best party in years when they faced Exeter City at Deepdale on May 4 1996.

Wednesday, 8th May 2019, 10:21 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th May 2019, 11:21 am
PNE striker Andy Saville looks out from the Pavilion Stand on to the Deepdale pitch after victory over Exeter City in May 1996

Having clinched the Third Division title a week earlier with a win at Hartlepool, this was the homecoming and a chance to celebrate with the home faithful.

Goals from Andy Saville and Steve Wilkinson gave the Lilywhites a 2-0 victory in front of a sell-out 18,700 crowd.

That was just the start of the promotion party over the Bank Holiday weekend.

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A packed Deepdale for PNE's 2-0 win over Exeter in May 1996

PNE were presented with the title trophy at full-time, the player of the year bash that evening continuing into the small, wee hours.

On the Monday, there was a victory parade on board an open-top bus for the players, finishing-off on the steps of the Harris Museum in front of a packed Flag Market.

This was a third 2-0 win on the bounce as North End finished in style.

A 2-0 victory over Leyton Orient had all-but ensured promotion, that wrapped-up together with the title the next week at Hartlepool.

Preston striker Andy Saville with the Third Division championship trophy

The sold-out signs went up long before kick-off, that seeing a group of Exeter fans locked-out after North End supporters had got into the away section when the home ends had filled up.

Preston took only seven minutes to go in front.

Kevin Kilbane got down the left-wing and put over a cross which Simon Davey headed on.

It travelled to Saville who stabbed a left-foot volley into the net via the inside of the far post.

The jubilant Preston North End squad with the Third Division title in May 1996

That was Saville’s 30th goal of the campaign and later that night he was voted player of the year.

Exeter were determined to be party-poopers and put North End under plenty of pressure after going behind.

Mark Chamberlain’s shot from 30 yards forced PNE keeper John Vaughan to make a superb save, tipping it over the bar.

Kilbane cleared off the line after Chamberlain’s daisy-cutter had beaten Vaughan.

PNE fans at Deepdale for the game against Exeter

The keeper was in action again to block at the feet of Leon Braithwaite.

North End got back on the front foot in the second half and played some delightful football to keep the crowd entertained.

Their second goal came in the 70th minute.

Graeme Atkinson, on as a half-time substitute for Kevin Gage, let fly with a shot from fully 35 yards.

Exeter player/manager Peter Fox fingetipped it against the top of the post, Wilkinson following-up to tuck home the rebound.

Wilkinson’s partnership with Saville had proved such a key factor in promotion, it being appropriate that the pair should both find the net in this last game.

Preston North End's open-top bus parade in May 1996

Another superb save from Vaughan prevented Exeter pulling a goal back in the 81st minute, tipping a header from Jon Richardson behind.

Late on, North End sub Gary Bennett fired against the post after a scramble in the goalmouth.

PNE: Vaughan, Sparrow, Wilcox, Moyes, Barrick, Gage (Atkinson 46), Bryson, Davey, Kilbane (Bennett 70), Saville, Wilkinson. Sub (not used): Kidd.

Attendance 18,700