Retro game: Ricardo Fuller's debut for Preston North End in an opening-day defeat to Crystal Palace
The opening day of the 2002/03 season was full of firsts for Preston North End but alas finished in defeat.
It was Craig Brown’s opening game in charge of PNE and there was a debut for his first signing, the very talented Ricardo Fuller.
Eric Skora’s red card just after half-time was North End’s first in 83 matches and ultimately proved key to the outcome.
Although Fuller gave the Lilywhites the lead after Skora’s dismissal, the 10 men could not hang on to their advantage as two Palace goals saw the three points head back to South London.
It was a disappointing start for Brown after a big build-up to the former Scotland manager’s return to football.
The plus point was the performance of Fuller who was outstanding throughout and had PNE fans licking their lips about what was to come from the £450,000 signing from Jamaican side Tivoli Gardens.
Fuller’s previous taste of English football had come in a short stint with Palace.
He seemed determined to show them what they had missed by letting him go, as early as the first minute teeing-up Skora for a shot which Palace goalkeeper Matt Clarke dived full length to save.
Time-after-time he set off on runs, weaving between defenders to cause plenty of problems for the visitors.
The second half was only two minutes old when Skora got his marching orders from referee Mark Clattenburg.
His first yellow was for a foul on Dougie Freedman, the second for a challenge on substitute Tommy Black.
The second yellow was followed by red and off went the French midfielder for an early bath.
A man down, North End went a goal up, Fuller the man finding the net.
Tepi Molianen’s goal kick was helped on by Richard Cresswell, with Fuller darting behind the Palace defence to lift a shot over Clarke as he came off his line.
The lead lasted barely 90 seconds though, as Preston conceded a corner on the right.
Over it came into the box where Danny Granville hit a slow shot which Darren Powell touched to divert it past Moilanen.
Twice North End created chances to regain the lead, both times keeper Clarke denied them.
He saved well from a Cresswell shot and later tipped Chris Lucketti’s header over the bar.
Palace, who had lost striker Andy Johnson to a neck injury just before the interval, scored their winner in the 86th minute.
A cross from the right was missed by Freedman in the box but the ball fell into the path of Steve Kabba who struck a fine first-time finish into the top corner.
Fuller was to scored five goals in his first eight PNE games and had netted 12 times by November when a torn cruciate ligament ended his season prematurely.
PNE: Moilanen, Jackson, Lucketti, Murdock, Alexander, Skora, Rankine, McKenna (Etuhu 59), Edwards (Anderson 89), Cresswell, Fuller (Healy 89). Subs (not used): Broomes, Lucas.
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