Retro: 25 years on from Preston North End's Third Division title-winning campaign

There was a steely focus from Preston North End as they got ready for the 1995/95 season.

Monday, 17th May 2021, 3:00 pm

One thing was on their mind, promotion from the Third Division.

They’d had a near miss at the end of the 1994/95 campaign, beaten by Bury 2-0 on aggregate in the semi finals of the play-offs.

North End manager Gary Peters knew there was the potential in the squad with the help of a few additions, to push beyond the play-offs and be genuine contenders for automatic promotion.

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Preston North End celebrate their 1995/96 Third Division title win at Deepdale in May 1996

Nine months later, that potential was realised with PNE crowned champions.

This time 25 years ago, the celebrations were still going on in Preston – a first promotion for the club for nine years.

In his planning for the season, Peters had decided the team needed more goals, lots more.

So backed by the Baxi paymasters, Andy Saville and Steve Wilkinson were brought in from Birmingham and Mansfield respectively, to form the strike force.

Ian Bryson celebrates with Ryan Kidd after scoring in PNE's 4-0 win at Torquay

Winger Michael Brown came in from Shrewsbury to help supply the front line, although his use was to be limited.

A couple of weeks into the season, Dean Barrick arrived from Cambridge to fill the left-back spot, Paul Raynor allowed to leave in a swap deal.

Then a bit later the defence was bolstered further with Russ Wilcox signed from Doncaster.

North End lost their first game of the season to Lincoln but in the league were not beaten again until early January – a run of 21 matches.

Steve Wilkinson and Andy Saville both scored hat-tricks in PNE's 6-0 win over Mansfield in October 1995

They had goals in them, Saville and skipper Ian Bryson netting a pair each in a 4-0 away win at Torquay.

Saville and Wilkinson then both scored a hat-trick in the 6-0 demolition of Mansfield at Deepdale.

Three games later there was another treble for Saville in a 4-0 win over Leyton Orient, the bald-headed striker quickly establishing himself as a terrace favourite.

Peters was getting the balance right, Wilcox and David Moyes experienced campaigners at the heart of the defence. Flanking them was Andy Fensome and Barrick.

A packed away end at Brisbane Road when PNE all-but assured themselves of promotion with a 2-0 win against Leyton Orient

Simon Davey, Graeme Atkinson and Bryson were the mainstays in action, Brown or Lee Cartwright providing the width.

Cardiff was beaten 5-0 on a solid Deepdale pitch on New Year’s Day, despite the Saville/Wilkinson pairing having been broken-up for that game – Peters went with an extra midfielder in Neil McDonald.

At home, the strong form was being staged in a three-sided Deepdale as the Tom Finney Stand went up to replace the West Stand.

Barnet were the side to end the 21-game unbeaten league and in fact did the double over PNE.

Otherwise it was pretty much business as usual as the points continued to be stacked up. The away form was strong, Darlington and Rochdale were both beaten in the snow.

Gillingham were PNE’s main challengers, the sides sharing a 1-1 draw at Priestfield as they ran neck-and-neck.

Towards the end there was a wobble from Preston as a draw at Mansfield was followed by two defeats.

They responded in strong fashion, winning their last three matches by a 2-0 scoreline. Saville’s brace delivered victory at Leyton Orient to all-but clinch promotion.

Any mathematically issues were finalised a week later as Davey and Saville found the net at Hartlepool.

Not only that make certain of promotion, it won them the title – sparking huge celebrations among 3,000 travelling PNE fans, ones which continued in various towns on the way home.

On the final day they were presented with the title trophy after a 2-0 win over Exeter at Deepdale.

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