THE loan market plays a big part in the Football League, with clubs using the system in a variety of ways.
It can be as simple as borrowing a goalkeeper for a few games, while others use it to help stock their squads for a whole season.
Preston have made five dips into the loan market in the 2014/15 campaign and four of them have been massive successes.
The one time it did not work out was Bradley Fewster’s move from Middlesbrough in the wake of the loss of Joe Garner to injury.
Fewster, a young striker from Boro’s development squad, lasted only two weeks at Deepdale before returning to Teesside homesick.
Balancing that out – in fact tipping the scales totally the other way – have been the deals for Paul Gallagher, Callum Robinson, Jermaine Beckford and Sam Johnstone.
All four have played key parts in helping North End to Wembley.
Had things gone better three weeks ago at Colchester, the quartet would have been part of an automatic promotion-winning squad.
As it is, they have had to settle for the play-off final and Robinson will have to watch that from afar – more of that tale later.
Gallagher spent seven months on loan at Deepdale last season and liked it so much that he decided to come back for the whole of this campaign.
North End struck a deal with Leicester in July to borrow him for the season in exchange for a contribution to his Foxes wages.
They have had their money’s worth, Gallagher featuring in every league and play-off game to date – all 48 of them.
He should make that 49 at Wembley against Swindon despite the best efforts of Chesterfield over two legs to rough him up.
Gallagher was grabbed around the throat, elbowed in the face and had his foot stamped on in two feisty semi-finals.
But the midfielder is still standing, although his foot needed a precautionary X-ray last week.
This season, Gallagher has netted 13 goals – seven in the league, five in the FA Cup and one in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
You can add to that a similar number of assists, with the 30-year-old having a good range of delivery at set-pieces.
Probably his best assist recently was his first-time ball to set up Beckford’s first goal in last month’s 3-1 win at Notts County.
Reflecting on his season at North End, Gallagher said: “I wanted to come back here and make up for us missing out in the play-offs at Rotherham last May.
“I had chances to move to other clubs higher up but I told my representative this is where I wanted to be.
“Enjoying playing football is a big part of what I’m about and I enjoy it at Preston.
“It would be great if we could get into the Championship – that is what the aim was from the first day of pre-season training.”
The second loanee to pass through the Deepdale arrivals lounge was Robinson.
He did so in September and then again in February, one of a small number of players to have two separate loan spells with Preston in the course of one season.
Grayson got him from Aston Villa’s Under-21s in September, swooping for Robinson after losing Kevin Davies and Jordan Hugill to injury following a bruising clash at Walsall. Robinson’s first loan spell lasted 11 games, during which he scored five goals.
He opened his account in the 2-0 win at Leyton Orient on October 28.
In November’s FA Cup visit to minnows Havant and Waterlooville, Robinson bagged a hat-trick in front of the BT Sport cameras.
Then he scored Preston’s winner at league leaders Bristol City on November 22.
On the same day that PNE learned they would be without Joe Garner for three months with a shin injury, they were dealt a second blow when Villa recalled Robinson.
Back he went to the West Midlands to provide cover for the first team but not once did he get further than the bench.
It was no surprise when North End moved for him again on transfer deadline day in February.
Robinson’s second loan spell was probably not quite as effective as his first.
But his first goal back in Preston colours set PNE on their way to victory at MK Dons in March.
He also scored in the 2-2 draw with Gillingham, his first-half display that night perhaps the best of his second stay.
It was a loan spell which was to end after the second-leg win over Chesterfield.
Villa wanted him back to monitor his progress , with there being a possibility he might feature in their final game of the season on Sunday.
Beckford joined North End from Bolton in November for the rest of the campaign.
His contribution to their promotion push since the end of February has been well documented.
But the striker did not do too badly before a five-week illness lay-off.
Beckford’s first goal five days before Christmas earned PNE a 1-0 win at Peterborough.
He rescued a point at Crewe on December 29, then netted in January’s 2-2 draw with Leyton Orient.
What started as a routine absence with an ear infection turned into something of a nightmare for Beckford.
The illness affected his balance, making him so ill that he was bed-ridden for three weeks.
At one stage, Beckford considered retirement, such was the seriousness and debilitating effect of the condition.
Thankfully he slowly got better and returned to action as a substitute at Oldham on February 28, scoring in a 4-0 victory.
Eleven more have come from his boots since that afternoon at Boundary Park.
Beckford has developed into the perfect foil for Garner, the pair starting the last 14 games together up front.
It will be a partnership on show at Wembley.
The last of the loanees to arrive was Johnstone, the goalkeeper joining from Manchester United in January.
Still young for a keeper, 22-year-old Johnstone has shown his worth in a number of games, keeping 12 clean sheets in the league.