PNE retro: Pontins League title joy for Preston North End reserves in 1997
Preston North End’s second string won the Pontins League First Division with victory over West Bromwich Albion on a quagmire of a Deepdale pitch in May 1997.
They lifted the Ted Griffith Trophy – named in the memory of the former PNE director – but were made to work for their win.
Not only did they have to overcome a determined Albion side which needed to avoid a four-goal defeat to prevent relegation, they had to battle through mud for the title-winning points.
The Deepdale playing surface had taken a battering during a period of heavy rain, with it needing patching up afterwards to enable the Preston schools’ finals to go ahead, with Lancashire Lynx rugby league team also having matches to play.
North End’s reserves had only lost twice in 23 games going into this final fixture.
Gary Peters resisted the temptation to fill the team with first-team regulars, keeping faith with those who had played many of the reserve matches.
Two trialists were named in the side, Billy Woods and Mike Walsh, but other than that it was a familiar looking PNE side.
More than 3,000 Preston supporters turned up on a wet night and saw their side come from behind to win.
Albion, whose side had seven players with Premier League and First Division experience, were the better side in the first half.
They deserved the lead given to them by Dean Bennett in the 17th minute.
Lee Knight sent over a low cross, which PNE skipper Jamie Squires managed to cut out.
But the ball rolled into the path of Bennett who drilled a shot past North End goalkeeper Tepi Moilanen from 15 yards.
A half-time team talk got the hosts focused and four minutes into the second half they pulled level.
Graeme Atkinson curled a free-kick left-footed from the right into the box.
Michael Holt rose above the West Brom defence to guide a header over keeper Nigel Spink.
It was the striker’s 10th goal for the reserves that season, an impressive tally.
Moilanen saved well with his legs after Bennett had got clear of the PNE defence.
It was a warning sign heeded, with North End playing some good football after that.
Their winning goal came in the 59th minute after getting a corner on the right.
Atkinson took it, but the ball was cleared out of the box back to him.
He lifted a second attempt into the middle, the Albion defence failed to clear and centre-half Squires slid in at the far post to bundle the ball over the line from close range.
It was a lead they managed to protect in the final half hour, the victory seeing them finish above Aston Villa in the table.
Squires was presented with the title trophy on the pitch after the final whistle to tremendous applause from the North End fans.
PNE: Moilanen, Walsh, Squires, Sparrow, Barrick, McKenna, Rankine, Woods, Atkinson, Holt, Wilkinson. Subs (not used): Gage, Heys, Moyes.
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