As is often the case with ex-Preston players stepping into management, there have been eyes on Gareth Ainsworth this season.

Fans like to track the progress of Lincoln City boss Michael Appleton and Salford City manager Graham Alexander, with both popular in their playing days at Preston.

Ainsworth was a real cult hero at Deepdale though, having played for North End in three separate spells during the 1990’s and 2000’s.

After initially starting out with Blackburn Rovers and Northwich Victoria, Ainsworth’s love affair with North End began way back in 1992, and after a brief spell at Cambridge United, he came back to Deepdale in 1993.

Ainsworth became a fan favourite in his second stint, notably bagging 11 goals in the 1993-94 season as he played an important role in the third division.

He moved on again in 1995 for Lincoln City, though he was back at North End again in 2002, joining from Wimbledon in a brief loan spell. Preston finally said a proper goodbye to Ainsworth then, but a Deepdale return may now be on the cards.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 13: Wycombe Wanderers’ manager Gareth Ainsworth gestures during the Sky Bet League One Play Off Final between Oxford United and Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley Stadium on July 13, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Andrew Kearns – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Tonight, Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers side have won promotion to the Championship. A dramatic 2-1 win over Oxford United has booked their spot in the second tier next season, for the first time in their history.

Aisnworth was already a legend at Wycombe anyway after eight years in charge of the club and more than 100 appearances in his playing days, but he has really guaranteed hero status at Adams Park now.

Ainsworth has done a remarkable job on a budget with the Chairboys, and has now delivered the unlikely dream of Championship football. Only Bolton Wanderers and Bury – who had their respective financial problems – had longer promotion odds in pre-season last year.

If North End miss out on promotion to the Premier League, then they will face off against Ainsworth almost 20 years since he last played for the club.

28 May 1994: Gareth Ainsworth of Preston North End in action during the Endsleigh League Division Three play-off match against Wycombe Wanderers played at Adams Park ground in High Wycombe, England. Wycombe Wanderers won the match 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport

Some have even picked out Ainsworth as a future Preston manager. His football maybe isn’t pretty, but it has been very effective with Wycombe, and he has experience of working on a budget.

With at least a season in the Championship to come, Ainsworth can really prove himself as a second-tier manager, and maybe put himself in line for a future Preston job down the line.

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