Memory match: Steve Harper was Preston North End's hat-trick hero against Cardiff City in February 1990

Preston North End's clash with Cardiff City in February 1990 was supposed to be all about John Thomas' homecoming to Deepdale.

By Dave Seddon
Thursday, 25th June 2020, 3:17 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th June 2020, 3:18 pm
Steve Harper celebrates scoring a hat-trick for Preston against Cardiff at Deepdale in February 1990
Steve Harper celebrates scoring a hat-trick for Preston against Cardiff at Deepdale in February 1990

Instead Steve Harper stole the show by scoring the first hat-trick of his career to help North End to a 4-0 victory over the Bluebirds.

The winger with a mass of permed hair and a moustache was too hot to handle for the visiting defence and his exploits in front helped lift the gloom which had enveloped the club in previous week.

John McGrath had been sacked as manager 11 days earlier after a poor run of results, albeit McGrath had been working with a dwindling budget.

Steve Harper's shot beats the Cardiff keeper for PNE's first goal

The caretaker manager's coach was handed to his assistant Les Chapman who had started off with a 6-0 hammering by Reading.

So to bounce back with four goals in front of the home faithful was a huge boost for Chapman.

In the days building-up to Cardiff's visit, North End had re-signed striker Thomas.

They paid West romwich Albion £50,000 for his services, having sold him to Bolton three years earlier for £30,000 on the back of him being the top scorer in the 1986/87 promotion-winning season.

North End defender Mike Flynn has a chance against Cardiff, watched by John Thomas

Thomas' return certainly put a few extra on the crowd figure, this game watched by 5,716.

While the North End faithful came to worship JT, they ended-up marvelling at Harper's efforts.

Warren Joyce netted the other goal on an afternoon when things just clicked for the home side.

Thomas got a huge ovation from the fans when he came on to the pitch before kick-off, the 'new' man teaming-up with Graham Shaw up front.

Steve Harper gets the match ball from the referee as a souvenir after scoring a hat-trick

The original plan had been for Nigel Greenwood to partner Thomas, however a stomach muscle injury ruled Greenwood out on the morning of the clash.

Playing with the wind at their backs, North End stormed forward and Thomas had the ball in the net inside 90 second only for an offside flag to go up against team-mate Neil Williams in the build-up.

Harper built on PNE's strong start by breaking the deadlock in the 21st minute.

Good work from Brian Mooney created the opening for Harper to pull the trigger from 20 yards and see his shot flick off the boot of Gareth Abraham and leave goalkeeper Roger Hansbury stranded.

They went in at half-time with the single-goal lead and knew they'd be playing into the wind after the break.

Any fears that might lead to a Cardiff fightback were dispelled as North End ran in three goals in the opening 12 minutes of the second half.

In the 47th minute, Thomas' deft touch played in Harper who drove home a superb low shot from just inside the box.

Harper completed his hat-trick just a minute later, being the first to a loose ball in the Cardiff box and lashing home a good finish.

Joyce finished-off the scoring with 57 minutes showing on the clock.

Getting possession outside the box, Joyce drove forward, dodged a couple of challenges before beating Hansbury with a stylish finish.

The last half-hour, North End saw out with a great deal of comfort.

Afterwards Harper was quick to praise 'new' boy Thomas for his contribution.

Harper said: "I had never met John before this week but it is really clear what a good player he is.

"He lead the line so well and can hold the ball up brilliantly. He played a big part in this win, no doubt about it.

"That was my first hat-trick and it felt super.

"What made it really special was that is contributed to such an important win.

"I thought perhaps that the second goal was the pick of the three, but who cares - all goals count the same."