LEP football writer Dave Seddon looks back on an eventful year for Preston North End as they consolidated their position in the Championship under manager Simon Grayson
Preston kicked-off 2016 in the manner they had finished 2015 – with a home victory.
They beat Rotherham 2-1 at Deepdale on January 2 but left it late, very late.
Having fallen behind in the first half, PNE levelled with Eoin Doyle’s close-range goal.
Their winner came deep into stoppage-time, Marnick Vermijl’s long throw headed into his own net by Millers striker Jonsson Clarke-Harris.
Back between the posts for North End that day was Sam Johnstone, the goalkeeper having signed on a 28-day loan from Manchester United.
He had been snapped-up to replace Jordan Pickford who had been recalled by Sunderland.
A disappointing early exit from the FA Cup followed at Peterborough a week later, the Posh – managed at the time by ex-Preston boss Graham Westley – winning 2-0.
There was an immediate positive response in the league, North End winning 2-1 against Bristol City at Ashton Gate.
The winner came from Greg Cunningham against his former club, the left-back choosing the perfect moment to score his first goal in a Preston shirt.
A 1-1 draw at Ipswich and a home defeat to Brentford brought January to a close.
The goalkeeper gloves changed hands again, with Anders Lindegaard joining on loan from West Bromwich to take the place of Johnstone who returned to United.
The Dane’s debut came in a very creditable goalless draw at Derby County which was to spark a good run of form.
Four days later, they beat Huddersfield 2-1 at Deepdale, gaining revenge for a dismal Boxing Day defeat to the Terriers.
The goals came in the last 10 minutes, an own goal pulling Preston level before Alan Browne headed the winner in added time.
Browne had almost missed the game, his Range Rover getting a puncture on the motorway during his journey into work.
Kit man Russ Rigby came to his rescue, driving to meet the midfielder on the hard shoulder and allowing him to drive his van to Deepdale.
North End followed up that win with three more points at Wolves.
Goals from Paul Gallagher and Adam Reach sparked joyous scenes in the Molineux away section.
Simon Grayson’s men made it three wins on the spin by beating Sheffield Wednesday at Deepdale.
Joe Garner headed the only goal from a pinpoint Calum Woods cross, that the striker’s first goal for two months.
The Owls played part of the second half with 10 men after Fernando Forestieri was red carded for two bookings – the first for simulation, the second for deliberate handball.
A fourth successive victory came against struggling Charlton three days later, Garner and Callum Robinson finding the net.
The run was ended by a 2-1 defeat to Cardiff City.
After a goalless draw with Brighton and a 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest, the big moment of March for North End was the Gentry Day win over Bolton.
More than 4,400 PNE fans made the trip to the Macron Stadium for the annual tribute to past players and supporters no longer with us.
A second-half comeback was needed to deliver the 2-1 victory.
Jordan Hugill headed them level before Doyle diverted home Vermijl’s angled shot for a late winner, sparking manic scenes in the away end.
The 1-1 draw with QPR, Doyle netting for Preston, saw a return to action as a late sub for Jermaine Beckford after knee surgery.
Saturday, April 2 saw 7,023 North End supporters make the short trip to Ewood Park to watch the derby clash with Blackburn Rovers.
And what a day out it was to be for the travelling masses in the Darwen End of the ground.
PNE fell behind to an early goal from Rovers defender Elliott Ward.
But when Shane Duffy handled a shot from Hugill on the line, North End had a way back into the game.
Duffy was sent-off and the penalty was dispatched by Garner – the Preston striker celebrating with a chicken impression!
As half-time approached, Hugill met a peach of a cross from Gallagher with a cushioned volley for what turned out to be the winner.
It was a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ in the next game against Fulham at Deepdale three days later, with PNE beaten 2-1 by the Cottagers.
That was the first of a run of five games without a win, with defeats against Middlesbrough and Burnley sandwiching draws with MK Dons and Birmingham City.
There was a return to winning ways at Reading on April 30, Beckford and Daniel Johnson on target.
The season’s finale came against Leeds at Deepdale, the teams sharing a 1-1 draw.
Hugill came off the bench to score a late equaliser after Chris Wood’s penalty had put the visitors in front.
It was a tearful Leeds boss Steve Evans who spoke to the media afterwards, the Scotsman accepting that was his last game in charge.
North End conducted their first piece of summer transfer business within a couple of weeks of the season ending, with Chris Maxwell signed on a Bosman from Fleetwood.
Danish front man Simon Makienok agreed to join PNE on loan from Italian club Palermo.
The 6ft 7ins striker had spent the 2015-16 campaign on loan at Charlton.
Tommy Spurr was signed on a Bosman, having reached the end of his contract at Blackburn.
Lindegaard, Robinson and Doyle turned their loan deals into permanent moves ahead of Preston’s return to pre-season training.
Ben Pringle was signed from Fulham for £250,000
Speculation surfaced about interest from Rangers in Garner, the initial response from Deepdale being very much ‘hands-off’.
North End suffered a major injury blow in pre-season when Calum Woods damaged the cruciate and medial ligaments in his right knee in the friendly at Oldham.
It quickly became clear that they would have to do without him all season.
The loss of Woods put Preston in the market for cover on the right hand side of defence.
The 2016/17 season was to start on a disappointing note, with Preston beaten 1-0 at Reading.
They were to lose their first three league games, with Fulham and Derby both winning at Deepdale.
The Fulham game was to be the last in a Lilywhites shirt for Garner, with him moving to Rangers in a £1.8m deal
On the afternoon Garner completed the switch, PNE won 2-0 against QPR at Loftus Road – their first three points of the campaign.
But they were to end the month with defeat to Ipswich.
Transfer deadline-day saw the arrival of Alex Baptiste and Aiden McGeady on loan, with Vermijl joining for £500,000 from Wednesday.
The losing streak continued into September, with Barnsley beating North End 2-1 at Deepdale – debutante McGeady finding the net.
Their first league home win since February arrived four days later though, goals from Tom Clarke, Robinson and Hugill delivering a 3-0 success.
But they came back down to earth with a real bump the following Saturday in London, beaten 5-0 by Brentford at Griffin Park.
Three of the goals were shipped in the last few minutes as PNE fell apart.
On paper at least, the last thing North End wanted next was an EFL Cup visit to Bournemouth.
The Dean Court clash was to prove the turning point of the season though, a Makienok hat-trick giving them a 3-2 win after extra-time over the Premier League outfit.
A 1-0 win over Wigan – Hugill on target – and a 2-2 draw at Birmingham saw the month end with a sense of stability after the earlier unease.
An eagerly-awaited fixture was Aston Villa’s visit to Deepdale on October 1, their first since 1974.
It lived up to expectation, with first-half goals from the rejuvenated Ben Pearson and Hugill giving PNE a 2-0 win.
A stoppage-time penalty save from Maxwell prevented Villa snatching a consolation.
The result spelt the end for Villa head coach Roberto Di Matteo who was sacked within 48 hours.
October’s fixture list looked a tricky one, but buoyed by the win over Villa, North End took it in their stride and pushed up the Championship table.
They negotiated a tough test against Brighton at the Amex Stadium, Hugill giving them the lead before the Seagulls netted twice to go in front.
In stoppage-time and with PNE down to 10 men after John Welsh had left the pitch injured, Makienok steered home a header to level it up.
Huddersfield, who had led the table for the first couple of months, were beaten 3-1 at Deepdale – Clarke, Baptiste and Gallagher scoring.
Grayson’s men produced a real coupon buster at Norwich, Baptiste’s header giving them a 1-0 win at Carrow Road.
Things went astray against Newcastle in the EFL Cup though, a much-changed PNE side hammered 6-0 at St James’ Park.
Alan Browne’s red card with the score at 1-0 hardly helped their cause.
Newcastle visited Deepdale later the same week in the league, winning 2-1 in a far closer game.
After a run of games against clubs at the top end of the table, PNE ventured to the New York Stadium to face bottom side Rotherham on November 5.
They collected their first win at the Millers’ newish home, Hugill, Robinson and Vermijl on target in a 3-1 victory.
The third international break of the campaign stalled their momentum, the two games which followed it both ending in somewhat disappointing home draws with Wolves and Burton.
Robinson netted in the Burton clash.
Preston hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons at the start of December.
Team-mates Beckford and Doyle, pictured left, were sent-off for fighting with one another in the closing stages of the 2-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
They clashed after Doyle had chosen to pass to Vermijl during a counter-attack rather than try to pick out Beckford.
In his post-match press conference, Grayson labelled the incident as ‘embarrassing’.
Both players were fined by the club, the money used to reimburse the 801 PNE fans who had been at the game.
North End needed a win in their next game to put the sorry saga to bed and indeed did that, beating Blackburn.
An exciting derby clash saw Johnson score twice in the first half, Danny Graham twice equalising for Rovers.
Robinson fired home the winner 10 minutes from time, this being Preston’s first league win at Deepdale over Rovers since August 1978.
They followed it up with a 1-1 midweek draw against Nottingham Forest.
Makienok put PNE in front before half-time but they were pegged back in the second half, an injury to Pearson knocking them out of their stride.
The week before Christmas, North End beat Bristol City 2-1 at Ashton Gate.
Makienok netted for the second game running to put them ahead, Johnson scoring the winner late on.
Boxing Day was far from a Christmas cracker, with PNE beaten 4-1 by Leeds.
Beckford was again in the spotlight, sent-off just three minutes after coming on as a substitute.
The former Leeds striker kicked-out at visiting defender Kyle Bartley after the pair had challenged for a ball in the air.
This was the first game he had been available for after serving a three-match ban for the red card at Hillsborough.
The last game of 2016 comes on Saturday – New Year’s Eve – against Wednesday at Deepdale.