PNE retro: Preston North End 2 Halifax Town 1 - Alan Ball's return to Deepdale
All eyes were on the away dug out when Preston North End played Halifax Town at Deepdale in February 1976.
The centre of attention was Alan Ball who a few days earlier had been appointed the Shaymen’s manager for a second time.
Ball had been PNE boss for three years, guiding them to the Third Division title in the 1970/71 season.
After being sacked by North End in 1973, he had gone on to manage Southport and two clubs in Sweden.
Ball’s first job as a manager had been at Halifax, with the Lilywhites having recruited him from them in 1970.
The West Yorkshire club moved for his services again as they looked to climb out of relegation danger.
What timing then that his first game back was against North End, a club he still had a deep affection for – the fans anyway, if not the board of directors.
Ball, who christened the PNE fans the ‘Gentry’ in his time at Deepdale, had a way with words.
After the game, he was quick to point out the affect his presence had.
“I put more than 500 on the crowd,” said Ball as he reflected on a 2-1 defeat at North End’s hands.
He was right, with this game watched by 5,480 just a few days after a 2-0 defeat to Shrewsbury had attracted a crowd of 4,995.
After three defeats on the bounce, goals from Mike Elwiss and Steve Doyle gave PNE victory.
Ray McHale pulled one back but North End rarely looked like letting the lead slip.
The game came almost three years to the day since Ball’s sacking by PNE.
Frank Lord had taken over as caretaker from Ball, then Bobby Charlton had two years in the job.
When Charlton stepped down early in the 1975/76 season, Harry Catterick took over and it was Catterick in the home dugout for this game.
PNE had the ball in the net as early as the fourth minute only for John Smith’s effort to be disallowed.
They took the lead two minutes into the second half, Smith’s ball out to the left finding Jimmy Brown.
The midfielder’s cross into the box was met by Elwiss who headed home.
Alex Bruce sent a header wide from a John McMahon cross, before North End went 2-0 ahead in the 57th minute.
When a free-kick was blocked, the ball fell to Doyle on the edge of the box.
The young Welshman drilled a show into the net for his first goal of the season.
Halifax pulled a goal back in the 71st minute. There was a scramble in the PNE goalmouth and McHale forced the ball over the line from close range.
Elwiss had a late chance but put his shot wide.
Speaking post-match, Ball said: “Naturally it was disappointing to be beaten but I’m not worried.
“I would rather lose to Preston than Aldershot or some equally rubbish southern team.”
PNE: Tunks, McMahon, Sadler, Spark, Williams, Brown, Doyle, Treacy, Smith, Elwiss, Bruce. Sub (not used): Coleman.