Preston North End retro game - when Alex Bruce put on a four-star display against Colchester

Alex Bruce scores from the penalty spot against Colchester in 1978
Alex Bruce scores from the penalty spot against Colchester in 1978

Preston North End were no one-man show in their 1977/78 promotion campaign but against Colchester United in February 1978, Alex Bruce took the limelight.

Bruce netted all four of North End’s goals to beat the Essex outfit at Deepdale on a chilly Tuesday night.

Steve Doyle on the attack for PNE against Colchester

Steve Doyle on the attack for PNE against Colchester

It formed part of a 30-goal haul for the Scottish striker that season, one which was to end in glory for PNE as they were promoted in third place from Division Three.

Not for another 37 years did a Preston player score four goals in a game again, Joe Garner doing so against Crewe in March 2015, that a campaign which also saw the Lilywhites promoted.

North End went into this game – played in front of a 9,225 attendance – on the back of a 1-1 draw against promotion rivals Cambridge United.

Nobby Stiles named an unchanged side , with Bruce partnered by Mike Elwiss.

Alex Bruce celebrates one of his four goals against Colchester

Alex Bruce celebrates one of his four goals against Colchester

That was a strike force which was much feared, the pair netting 47 goals between them.

There was nothing in the first half to suggest that a goal glut was on the way, the sides turning round goalless at half-time.

But in the second half, Bruce stepped forward to make the headlines.

It was Ricky Thomson who had looked the biggest threat for North End.

Action from PNE's 4-0 win over Colchester in 1978

Action from PNE's 4-0 win over Colchester in 1978

Thomson forced a few saves from U’s keeper Mike Walker as the home side looked for a way through.

The deadlock was broken after an hour, referee Peter Willis pointing to the spot after Steve Downman had handled in the box.

Bruce stepped-up to slot the penalty side-footed into the net, sending Walker the wrong way.

His second goal came in the 75th minute as Thomson and Elwiss linked-up to good effect.

Alex Bruce heads home his second goal of the night

Alex Bruce heads home his second goal of the night

Elwiss’ cross into the box was met by Bruce who had lost his marker, the striker sending a powerful header into the net.

A second penalty saw him complete his hat-trick three minutes later.

Thomson’s run was halted by Steve Wignall’s challenge, forcing Mr Willis to point to the spot once again.

Bruce went for the other corner this time but had the same success.

The fourth goal came in the 87th minute.

Elwiss did the spadework out wide, his drilled cross just evading Thomson.

But the ball travelled into the path of Bruce who lifted a first-time shot into the roof of the net.

Colchester were the 13th team to be beaten by North End at Deepdale that season.

Their manager Bobby Roberts felt the scoreline had been harsh on his side, the first penalty a cause for complaint from him.

Roberts said: “I don’t think Preston would have scored if Bruce’s first penalty had been given.

“Naturally I was bitterly disappointed as we were the better side before that.

“We then got a bit ragged.”

The win formed part of an eight-game unbeaten run for Stiles’ men.

PNE: Tunks, Coleman, Baxter, Cross, Cameron, Doyle, Haselgrave, Burns, Thomson, Elwiss, Bruce. Sub (not used): Robinson.