Retro game: Chesterfield 0 Preston North End 2 - Monday night win at Saltergate in the Auto Windscreens Shield in December 1996

Preston North End’s visit to Chesterfield in the Auto Windscreens Shield in December 1996 was a badge of honour game for the small cluster of PNE fans who made the trip.

Wednesday, 3rd February 2021, 3:10 pm

It was a Monday night game, squashed between a 3-2 FA Cup defeat to York 48 hours earlier and the big derby with Blackpool coming up four nights later.

North End manager Gary Peters had his focus firmly fixed on facing Blackpool, giving his regulars the night off at Saltergate.

But the shadow squad who came in did themselves proud, winning 2-0 and giving the away supporters, who numbered less than 50, something to cheer about on a bitterly cold night.

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Sean Gregan and Garry Bennett after Preston's win at Chesterfield in December 1996

Making his PNE debut was Sean Gregan, signed for a club record £300,000 from Darlington a few days before.

It was the start of a long and successful association between club and player.

The side which took to the pitch in Derbyshire had just one starter from the FA Cup loss to York, skipper Ian Bryson asked to do another shift in midfield.

Chesterfield changed five of their starting XI from the game before.

PNE midfielder Graeme Atkinson takes on two Chesterfield players

It was North End who had the better of the contest throughout, although only in the second half did they find the net through Graeme Atkinson and Gary Bennett.

In the first half, Bennett and strike partner Steve Wilkinson went close, while at the other end, Andy Morris lobbed a shot against the top of PNE’s bar.

Wilkinson saw a shot bounce off the legs of keeper Andy Leaning.

Three minutes into the second half, North End defender Jamie Squires saw an effort cleared off the line by 16-year-old Andrew Mitchell.

A quiet away end at Saltergate for PNE's AWS clash with Chesterfield in December 1996

Bennett forced Leaning into a good save before the Lilywhites took the lead in the 52nd minute.

Squires’ header from a corner was blocked in the six-yard box and the ball cleared out of the area.

Gregan fired a shot goalwards which cannoned off a defender and fell into the path of Atkinson, who slotted it home.

Bennett was denied a penalty in the 73rd minute when he went down in the box under the challenge of Darren Carr.

Sean Gregan has a shot on his PNE debut against Chesterfield

He was to get on the scoresheet three minutes from time to secure North End’s passage into the next round of the competition.

Mitchell’s back pass fell well short of the keeper and Wilkinson nipped in to intercept.

Wilkinson took the ball wide and from the byline chipped it into the middle, where Bennett had the simple job of nodding into the empty net from inside the goalmouth.

Despite this good display, only Gregan and Dean Barrick kept their places for the league meeting with Blackpool later that week.

Bennett was on the bench but was to make a big impact against the Seasiders, coming on to score twice in a 3-0 victory.

PNE: O’Hanlon, Sparrow, Squires, Gregan, Barrick, Davey, Bryson, McKenna, Atkinson, Wilkinson, Bennett. Subs (not used): Cartwright, Holt, Brown.

Attendance: 1,169

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