With no current football to look at, fans have been looking back to old games of late.
The global pandemic means football has been on the shelf for almost two months, and Preston have shown off some games from the 2015 play-off campaign recently.
The 1-0 and 3-0 wins over Chesterfield in the semi-finals, as well as the 4-0 final win over Swindon Town, have been replayed in recent weeks, but today marks the anniversary of how Preston ended up in the League One playoffs.
On May 3rd, 2015, Preston headed down to take on Colchester United on the final day of the season. What unfolded was one of the worst days of my time as a North End supporter.
Before we get to the game, we have to look at the situation. After a 3-0 home win over Swindon Town thanks to a Joe Garner hat-trick, North End were on the brink of promotion. Sitting a point ahead of Milton Keynes Dons, North End only needed to match the Dons’ result as they took on Yeovil Town at home.
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Preston were on an 18- game unbeaten run, but had make things a little tricky for themselves. Three successive draws at the hands of Bristol City, Gillingham and Port Vale had helped MK Dons close the gap and give themselves a real shot at second place.
Still, Colchester were sitting 23rd in the League One table, and needed a miracle to save themselves from the drop. With North End in strong form and Colchester struggling, Preston were favourites to win automatic promotion ahead of MK Dons.
However, this is Preston North End. Everything seems to be done the hard way; nine failed play-off campaigns, squeezing into the Championship playoffs on the final day of the 2008-09 season by one solitary goal after an unimaginable run of results – North End like to make things hard for themselves.
This turned out to be another of those situations.
With a 12:15 kick off, this was an early start and a long trip. I’ve never been one to shake nerves very well, and knowing that Preston were hours away from either heartbreak or jubilation made it a rough night’s sleep.
Bleary-eyed, I and many other North End fans made the arduous trip down to Essex, packing out a stand-and-a-half at the Colchester Community Stadium. With balloons scattered all over, it looked like a party atmosphere – but the travelling North End fans had tasted disappointment before, and that seemingly-joyous mood was undercut by a sense of anxiety.
Maybe that transmitted to the players. Maybe Colchester sensed it. We’ll never know, but pretty much every North End player managed to have their worst game of the season all at the same time, right when it mattered most.
Preston were flat, lacking inspiration and needed to regroup at the break. Sadly, the game lethargic performance continued, and even a missed Chris Porter penalty – met with wild celebrations from North End fans who realised this could be the turning point – failed to spark Preston into life.
Half chances came and went, with the tension rising with every MK Dons goal that nestled in the Yeovil net. Whilst Preston couldn’t get going, the Dons were hammering Yeovil. Their 5-1 win meant they had done what they needed to do whilst Preston were doing them the biggest of all favours.
Then, the moment that turned the stomachs of all North End fans that day. George Moncur swept home Chris Porter’s pass with just eight minutes to go, and that was it. Preston were done, the promotion dream had died, and it was the playoffs yet again.
As Colchester fans stormed the pitch to celebration staying afloat in unbelievable fashion, Preston fans had to trudge home. I truly can’t remember a single word I said from Essex back to Lancashire; too gutted to even offer any hope or insight, with the mere mention of ‘playoffs’ drawing all-too-familiar groans.
Of course, it all turned out well in the end. Preston went on to swat aside Chesterfield and Swindon to win promotion at Wembley Stadium, giving us all a day out that we probably deserved for enduring that Colchester nightmare.
Still, as we reach five years since that day, even the mention of Colchester sends a shiver down the spine. That listless performance in such a crucial game has stuck in the memory all this time, even after exorcising some demons with that Wembley win.
These are the ups and downs of being a football fan, and thankfully, we are a long, long way removed from that day now. A prospering Championship club with hope of reaching the Premier League whilst Colchester fight to get back to League One, Preston ultimately came out the other side in a better state – but many of us can’t forget that day.