Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton turned up for the first-round, first-leg tie at Millmoor to watch three players Manchester United had just sold to the Lilywhites.
Jonathan Macken and Colin Murdock had signed ahead of the start of the season, with Michael Appleton joining them in time to make his debut off the bench in South Yorkshire.
North End manager Gary Peters revealed post-match that a combined £890,000 had been spent on the trio, with Appleton the priciest at £500,000.
Fergie and Sir Bobby saw Macken score the first of three goals PNE netted in a seven-minute spell.
They had left by the time Appleton came on as a substitute later in the game and turn in an exciting cameo which offered plenty of promise for the future.
North End travelled across the Pennines as favourites, with them a division above the Millers.
In the first half, though, they found it tough going against the Third Division side who put in a high-tempo performance.
For all their work, they only forced Preston keeper Tepi Moilanen into action once in those opening 45 minutes – the flying Finn diving to push behind a header from Alan Knill.
Some harsh words were said in the dressing room by Peters at half-time and that did the trick of sparking the visitors into life.
Between the 54th and 61st minute, they scored three times to secure victory and make the second leg 13 days later something of a formality.
Lee Ashcroft played a big part in the creation of the opening goal, cutting in from the right along the face of the penalty box and beating three defenders.
He slipped a pass through to spring Macken behind the Rotherham defence, the young striker taking the ball wide of keeper Paul Pettinger and shooting into the net.
Macken turned provider in the 59th minute, seizing on a loose pass from Paul Hurst, riding two challenges and playing in David Reeves.
North End skipper Reeves darted into the box and shot low past the keeper.
The contest had just ticked beyond the hour when the third goal hit the back of the net. Ashcroft rolled a corner to Mark Rankine and took the return pass.
He curled a cross into the middle which Reeves met with a side-footed volley at the near post.
Appleton came off the bench for his North End debut and three times went close to scoring.
He put one shot across the face of goal and wide, then forced Pettinger into a couple of decent saves – one of them wouldn’t have counted had it gone in as the flag had gone up for offside.
Rotherham pulled a goal back in the 76th minute, Neil Richardson getting on the end of a free-kick to head in.
It was academic really, North End heading back to Lancashire with a 3-1 lead to take into the second leg.
They won that one 2-0 at Deepdale, with Reeves and Macken on target.
All three of Macken, Murdock and Appleton provided good service for Preston down the years.
Macken was sold in 2002 for £5m to Manchester City, Appleton having left the year before in a £750,000 move to West Bromwich.
Murdock stayed until 2003 when he joined Hibernian.
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