Memory match: Sheffield United v PNE
A week can be a long time in football, so 35 years is bordering on an eternity.
That was the length of time PrestonNorth End went between victories at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground.
Strictly speaking it was 34 years and 10 months, with 17 visits in that time bringing nothing better than a draw.
The hoodoo was broken on September 21, 2013, when a Stuart Beavon goal delivered a 1-0 victory.
It had been back in November 1978 when Alex Bruce found the net that the last PNE win had come in this corner of South Yorkshire.
Nine managers had taken the Lilywhites to the home of the Blades in the meantime, all returned without a victory.
It was Simon Grayson who managed to do what Gordon Lee, John McGrath, David Moyes, Craig Brown, Billy Davies, Paul Simpson, Alan Irvine, Darren Ferguson and Graham Westley could not.
It was a hard-fought win for Grayson’s men, one they had to dig in for.
Beavon was the match winner, firing home in the 68th minute in front of more than 1,000 Preston fans who had journeyed to the White Rose county.
North End went 3-5-2 for the clash, which turned into more of a 5-3-2 when their hosts had the ball.
Chris Humphrey and Scott Laird operated as the wing-backs, flanking the trio of Paul Huntington, Tom Clarke and Bailey Wright in the middle.
Joel Byrom and Keith Keane linked up to do the hard graft in midfield, with Iain Hume given the task of linking midfield with attack.
Up front, Beavon had the company of Kevin Davies, playing against the club he had supported as a boy.
The game’s only goal came as ex-PNE left-back Matt Hill lost his footing on the left-hand side of United’s box.
Davies nipped it, squaring a pass inside to Beavon who sold a dummy to both Harry Maguire and keeper George Long before slotting home a left-foot shot from eight yards.
North End put up a solid yellow wall to ensure there was no way back for the Blades.
But while the home side saw plenty of the ball, PNE keeper Declan Rudd did not have a shot to save all game.
Grayson was delighted with the win which stretched his Preston’s unbeaten run to seven games.
Understandably, he also saluted the end of the long wait for success at Bramall Lane,
Said Grayson: “Before the game I’d said that records were there to be broken.
“We got the result and the players can be very proud of themselves.
“The team showed what they are capable of and I’m delighted they did.
“Stats don’t worry me too much and the main thing was that we took three points.
“We will always take a 1-0 away win – we were under pressure but not at full stretch.
“I thought as a team we were compact and made it difficult for Sheffield United to create clear-cut chances.”
PNE have won at Bramall Lane since 2013 – in February 2015 they beat the Blades 3-1 in an FA Cup replay.
They came back from a goal down to win, with Paul Gallagher scoring twice and Paul Huntington getting the other.
That set them up with a home tie in the next round against Manchester United at Deepdale.