PNE retro: When Preston North End got the 'bounce' from the appointment of a caretaker manager in 1986

In terms of  a ‘bounce’ from a change of manager, Preston North End got one when Jonathan Clark stepped temporarily into the Deepdale hotseat in March 1986.

Wednesday, 31st March 2021, 3:00 pm

The Lilywhites turned to Clark when Brian Kidd handed in his notice on the eve of a game against Southend United.

Kidd was the second PNE boss to depart that season, Tommy Booth having gone earlier in the campaign.

Midfielder Clark was one of the senior players at the time and had missed a lot of that season through injury.

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Preston North End striker John Thomas and Tranmere goalkeeper Nigel Adkins challenge in the box at Prenton Park in March 1986

North End were rock bottom of the Fourth Division, with only six league wins to their name.

So you could only describe Clark as some kind of miracle worker when he first pulled on the caretaker manager’s coat.

He inspired PNE to win five games on the bounce, scoring 13 goals in the process.

To almost double the victory tally in the space of a fortnight was some going and the run even gave PNE a glimmer of hope of escaping the bottom four and having to apply for re-election.

PNE on the attack at Tranmere

Unfortunately Clark’s lads ran out of steam after that quintet of wins and the last five games of the season saw three defeats and two draws.

That should not distract though, from that initial burst of success under the former Manchester United and Derby midfielder.

Having beaten Southend 3-2 at Deepdale, Clark took his side to the Wirral the following Tuesday night to face Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park.

It was Mersey paradise for PNE in front of a crowd of just 1,574 – several hundred of those from Preston – with them recording a second successive 3-2 win.

John Thomas is teed-up by Terry Gray to score for PNE at Tranmere

Their new-found confidence showed when it took them just six minutes to take the lead.

Terry Gray slid a pass through the Tranmere defence to put Gary Brazil clear on goal.

Brazil raced into the box and steered a low shot past home keeper Nigel Adkins.

Further chances came for Brazil and John Thomas, but they weren’t able to add to the lead.

Tranmere levelled through player-manager Frank Worthington, who let fly with a shot from 25 yards which rocketed past Alan Kelly and dipped under the bar.

In the 41st minute, PNE regained their advantage.

Mick Martin delivered a free-kick into the box which Simon Gibson won in the air and nodded down.

Gray was first to it, the midfielder rolling a pass into the path of Thomas, who scored from close range.

Tranmere were level by half-time though, Ian Muir heading in from a corner.

For a third time North End took the lead early in the second half, and this time managed to hold on to it.

Brazil’s cross found Thomas on the edge of the box, the striker firing low past Adkins.

Further victories came against Mansfield (3-2), Wrexham (1-0) and Scunthorpe (3-1), before a home defeat to Orient ended the winning run.

PNE: Kelly, Jones, Gibson, Atkins, McAteer, Rudge, Gray, Martin, Brazil (Foster 83), Thomas, Allatt.

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