Preston North End’s victory over Oxford United might not jump out immediately as anything beyond the ordinary but goalkeeper Alan Kelly went above and beyond the call of duty – so too Hugh McIlmoyle.
The sides met at Deepdale on September 4, 1971, the Lilywhites newly promoted to the Second Division after winning the Third Division title four months earlier.
McIlmoyle gave Preston a 35th minute lead with a fine diving header, an advantage they had to defend with some vigour to hang on to.
With half an hour to go, North End were hanging on and it seemed only a matter of time until Oxford got back on level terms.
A chain of events then occurred, lifting the contest from nerve-wracking to absolutely mesmerising.
Following an Oxford free kick, Kelly leapt to collect a routine cross.
Derek Clarke, the visitors centre forward, arrived late and didn’t hold back with his barge into Kelly as the keeper landed.
As a result Kelly was left with damage to a ligament in his shoulder and after some attention on the pitch he had to be stretchered off.
PNE boss Alan Ball had gone on the pitch to see to Kelly and had to signal to coach Arthur Cox to bring the spare keeper’s jersey on.
This was handed to goal hero McIlmoyle who got on with the task in hand after 10 seconds of instructions from Ball.
Kelly being carried off saw PNE go down to 10 men, with substitute George Lyall already on the pitch after a first-half injury to left-back Jim McNab.
As play restarted, the North End supporters let out a deafening roar of defiance and kept the increased decibel level going for the remainder of the game.
Every tackle, pass, save and movement forward was cheered with gusto.
McIlmoyle’s style of moving around in the area like a forward then leaping to catch or punch the ball away only added to the excitement.
The game took another turn with 18 minutes left when Kelly, wearing McNab’s No. 3 shirt and with his arm in a sling, appeared with Ball on the touchline.
On came the Irishman to a rousing ovation, sticking largely to the left-wing but providing nuisance value. Kelly nearly set up a second PNE goal.
Collecting another punt out of defence, Kelly’s long ball found Bobby Ham who shot just wide.
With the one-armed Kelly on the wing and McIlmoyle in goal, Preston held on to take the points.
Many PNE fans rushed home from the game to catch up with Lancashire’s progress in the Gillette Cup final against Kent at Lord’s.
Clive Lloyd had hit 66 As Lancashire set Kent 225 to win. It looked like Kent would reach their target with Asif Iqbal in fine form.
But a fine catch from Jack Bond dismissed Iqbal, Kent lost their last three wickets for three runs, that seeing Lancashire retain the trophy.
PNE: Kelly, McMahon, Bird, Hawkins, McNab (Lyall 30), Heppolette, Spavin, Spark, Wilson, McIlmoyle, Ham.
*....Ed Skingsley is a lifelong Preston fan who has written four books on North End - 'A Season To Savour', 'Preston North End - The Sixties', 'Back From The Brink' and 'Preston North End - The Seventies'.