Beckford hat-trick ends Preston play-off pain at 10th attempt
All stains of Preston North End’s nine previous play-off failures were finally washed away at Wembley, as Jermaine Beckford hit a hat-trick to send Simon Grayson’s side up into the Championship at the expense of Swindon Town.
Defender and Deepdale player of the season Paul Huntington was also on target as the Lancashire outfit battered the West Country club, who never really settled on the hallowed turf, 4-0.
It took less than three minutes for North End to go ahead. Paul Gallagher’s free-kick was hooked home by Beckford, despite Swindon skipper Nathan Thompson’s best efforts.
Centre back Huntington made it 2-0 inside 15 minutes, guiding the ball past Wes Foderingham when the Robins failed to clear a corner and Gallagher delivered again from the left.
These early goals left Swindon shell-shocked; for all their dominance of possession there was no tangible reward and Mark Cooper’s men inability to defend being ruthlessly exposed by a direct Preston.
Robins striker Michael Smith nodded a gilt-edge chance wide from a right-wing centre, and moments later Beckford had a brace.
League One’s leading marksman Joe Garner knocked down a Sam Johnstone goal-kick to the on-loan forward, and Beckford curled in exquisitely from the edge of the area. North End thus went in at half-time 3-0 up.
Swindon coach Cooper was left to rue his selection choices, gambling on Thompson’s fitness and leaving top scorer Andy Williams on the bench.
Foderingham denied Beckford a third goal, saving superbly in a one-on-one situation five minutes after the interval, but before the hour the Preston poacher had the match ball. Garner turned provider again for his strike partner, and this time Beckford raced clear to complete his hat-trick.
Sam Johnstone, in goal for North End, twice kept out Jonathan Obika headers thereafter to help Grayson make history. In breaking Preston’s play-off curse, the former Blackpool, Leeds United and Huddersfield Town boss has a fourth promotion from League One on his CV.
Getting the perfect response after the bitter disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion to MK Dons on the final day of the regular season, Deepdale will once again host Championsip football alongside Karl Robinson’s men and Bristol City.