It was pure drama from start to finish, one which saw PNE win a penalty shoot-out to reach the final at the Millennium Stadium.
On reflection, this was North End’s final, so much emotion came out on the night that perhaps there was not enough left in the tank to get the better of Bolton Wanderers 11 days later.
North End trailed 1-0 from the first leg at St Andrew’s, a game which had been played against the backdrop of a Midlands thunderstorm.
Things all rested on events at Deepdale and, my word, what a Thursday night it was.
David Healy scored in the first half to level the aggregate score before Birmingham wrestled the lead back.
Mark Rankine then popped up to score for PNE with virtually the last touch of the 90 minutes.
His goal, the move to which had started on the goalline at the other end, sent the game into extra time.
When the additional 30 minutes didn’t produce a goal, it went to penalties and that was a story on its own, with Blues manager Trevor Francis throwing a strop over which end of the ground the shoot-out was held at.
Earlier in the night when things were slightly calmer, chances were traded at either end, North End keeper David Lucas saving well from Jon McCarthy with an out-stretched leg, while Healy put a shot too close to Ian Bennett.
The Lilywhites took the lead on the night and levelled the score on aggregate in the 24th minute.
A throw-in lobbed into the penalty area by right-back Graham Alexander seemed to hit the arm of Martin Grainger as the Birmingham defender jumped to clear.
As the crowd shouted for handball, the ball dropped to Healy who took a touch and rifled a shot into the roof of the net.
The visitors pulled level on the night in the 59th minute, swinging the tie back their way. Stan Lazaridis’ low cross was missed by Marcelo but his fellow striker Geoff Horsfield arrived at the far post to steer the ball home.
Lucas made a double save from Marcelo and Horsfield before PNE were offered a lifeline when ref Paul Danson pointed to the spot after Danny Sonner had handled
But the normally deadly Alexander hammered the penalty against the bar.
Preston equalised in the most dramatic way with more than 91 minutes on the clock.
It all began at the other end as Lazaridis moved into the PNE box and took the ball around Lucas.
His shot from a tight angle rolled across the face of the goal where it was picked up by Rob Edwards, who took the ball towards the halfway line. Sean Gregan took over, the skipper’s pass finding Jon Macken, who fed a pass to Healy on the left-hand side of the box.
The striker’s low shot was parried by Bennett and into the path of Mark Rankine who side-footed home.
In the shoot out, Alexander put PNE 1-0 up in the shoot-out, with Lucas then saving from Marcelo.
Healy buried his effort, Lucas then saving from Darren Purse. Sean Gregan made it 3-0 with a powerful conversion, then Lazaridis netted.
Edwards missed Preston’s fourth, Nicky Eaden pulled it back to 3-2 and it was left to Paul McKenna to tuck his penalty home to send PNE to Cardiff.