Nationwide Division One
Preston North End 2-1 Birmingham City AET
(Agg: 2-2 - Preston won 4-2 on penalties)
Healy (23), Rankine (92) - Horsfield (59)
Thursday May 17 2001, Deepdale, (Att: 16,928)
This game had it all. We were the underdogs, we were behind and we were at home.
The easel was set, and as the Preston players moved the ball around the pitch, they dragged with them a line of magical paint that weaved its way across the canvas that was the Nationwide League Division One.
Football was watching, and everyone was rooting for the underdogs. David Moyes had done the impossible in getting Preston to the play-offs.
Why couldn't he go one step further and get us - this historic, unfashionable club into the final - and maybe back to top-flight football? It was an incredible achivement to even get to this game.
The game kicked off and it was a nervy affair. The Town End was in the process of being built, so we had two new stands, one old stand and a missing gap on the right hand side.
It was a strange backdrop to the game, but it didn't let the noise out. I've never before or since felt an atmosphere like that at Deepdale.
David Healy struck - and scored. We were level! 1-1 on aggregate and into half time. I remember thinking I'd take that result. If it went to penalties we'd be ready. It might be our best, and only, chance.
The second half kicked off and it looked like Birmingham were starting to get a grip on the game. In the 58th minute disaster struck when Geoff Horsfield scored.
But we weren't giving up without a fight. Soon there was a breakthrough - Sonner handballed it, leaving the cool-headed Graham Alexander to slot home from the spot. But he hit the crossbar! DRAMA AND DISASTER.
If anything, though, it gave us the impetus to go forwards. Too far forwards. Stan Lazardis had the goal at his mercy and almost scored. The ball rolled across our goal line!
But we went forward on the counter and Healy shot. Who was there for the rebound? Legend Mark Rankine [LHS, right]. GOAAAL!!!! We were level!!!
And we could have gone on to win it - two great saves from the Brum keeper saved their sorry asses. So it was to penalties we went, and there was a bit of drama still to be enjoyed.
Trevor Francis - unhappy with the prospect of having the penalties taken at the demolished end of the ground rather than the Birmingham fans' end - marched his players off the pitch in protest. It left them unsettled and ripe for the raping.
Birmingham missed their first two penalties, and although Rob Edwards missed his, we were cruising. The ball was placed down, the player stepped up. Paul McKenna converted from the spot and the crowd went into hysteria.
We were there! We were in the playoff final! When will the dream end? When Bolton dicked us in the final 3-0. That's when.