Memory Match: Preston North End beat Portsmouth in March 1972 to end long wait for a league win

Preston North End helped themselves to a much-needed win when they beat Portsmouth 4-0 at Deepdale in March 1972.

Friday, 24th July 2020, 3:00 pm

They hadn’t tasted victory in the Second Division since Christmas and that dip in form had seen the Lilywhites slide down the table.

In those winter months, the FA Cup had provided some excitement with a 4-2 win over Bristol City rewarded with a Deepdale clash against Manchester United. That proved a pleasant distraction, but in terms of the league they needed points on the board.

Behind every bare scoreline is a hidden story, and this was that Preston should have posted double figures.

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George Lyall scores for Preston from the penalty spot against Portsmouth in March 1972

Pompey were a forlorn outfit, who never really discovered how to deal with a North End attack that had finally found some form.

They took the lead after 10 minutes when a long throw-in from Neil Young was headed on into the visitor’s danger zone by Alan Tarbuck.

The ball found the predatory Hugh McIlmoyle, who smashed the ball goalwards – the ball finding the net via the body of Pompey goalkeeper John Milkins.

A litany of misses then followed; Tarbuck headed wide, Young shot wide, then McIlmoyle shanked the ball in front of an open goal.

Penalty box action during PNE's 4-0 win over Portsmouth in March 1972

Young again completely miscued after John Bird and McIlmoyle had done such an effective demolition job with the Pompey defence.

George Lyall was North End’s most effective performer.

It was his pass of pure gold that sliced the visitor’s defence apart enabling Young to take the ball in his stride and drive home an unstoppable shot past Milkins for the second goal as half time neared.

Portsmouth registered just two shots at Alan Kelly’s goal, and he only needed to save one of them, a Ray Pointer shot on the turn.

PNE on the attack against Portsmouth

In the second half, Tarbuck headed past Milkins from close range to put North End 3-0 up.

The fourth goal was a gift. Pompey defender Fred Smith didn’t even try and disguise the fact he was bundling McIlmoyle off the ball in the penalty area.

The referee gave a penalty and Lyall stepped forward to send Milkins the wrong way with a low hard right foot shot.

North End manager Alan Ball was both charmed and irritated by Young, who he had signed the month before.

Action from PNE's clash with Portsmouth at Deepdale in March 1972

The ex-Manchester City player was an enigma on the pitch; a stroller who drifted in and out of the game.

Ball said: “I know I will never change him. I just wish I could get him to work as hard as the rest of the team. I only saw him touch the ball once in the first half – and he struck the ball like a bullet and scored, so I’m not complaining.”

PNE: Kelly, Connor, Bird, Hawkins, McNab, Heppolette, Spavin, Young, Tarbuck, McIlmoyle, Lyall. Sub (not used): Lamb.

*....Ed Skingsley is a lifelong PNE and has written five books on North End, the latest being Nobby’s Lads, which charts the 1977/78 promotion season.