League One play-offs: Beckford brace helps Preston crush Chesterfield
Preston North End are on course to finally break their play-off hoodoo at the 10th attempt (odds-on 8/11 promotion favourites with Coral), as classy front two Jermaine Beckford and Joe Garner were both on target in a handsome 3-0 home win in their League One semi-final second leg against Chesterfield.
This gave Simon Grayson’s side a 4-0 aggregate victory over the Spireites, and laid down a major marker for Wembley opponents Swindon Town or Sheffield United.
Garner converted a penalty sandwiched in between two sensational strikes from fellow Preston frontman Beckford in front of an adoring Deepdale crowd, securing the club’s first visit to the hallow turf since the national stadium was renovated.
Although Chesterfield centre backs Ivan Evatt and Sam Hird initially won their key battles, and North End goalie Sam Johnstone had to save with his feet from Sam Clucas, the hosts went ahead seven minutes before half-time
Garner’s knockdown from a long Preston punt upfield found Beckford, who held off his marker and hooked home superbly past emergency Spireites stopper Joe Murphy, loaned in to cover for injured number one Tommy Lee.
John Welsh and Paul Gallagher had to block late Chesterfield efforts to ensure North End went in ahead. On the hour mark, however, the hosts were gifted the chance to extend their lead when Murphy brought down Daniel Johnson, who began this season on loan with Paul Cook’s team.
Garner clinically converted from the spot to make it 3-0 Preston on aggregate. The Spireites were left to rue poor finishing once more with them dominating second-half possession, but their best effort saw Jay O’Shea hit the base of the near post.
Three minutes from time, Beckford scored the pick of the goals for Grayson’s side in stunning fashion, lobbing Murphy from just inside the Chesterfield half.
During his days with Leeds United under the same manager, ex-Everton frontman Beckford failed to score in five play-off games, but now has three in two and is brimming with confidence. He was mobbed by jubilant supporters who poured en masse out of Deepdale’s stands at full-time.
Whoever North End face at Wembley, neither the Blades (7/1 outsiders to go up) nor the Robins (13/8) will relish tangling with brilliant Beckford and goal-machine Garner.
Losing this play-off semi tie, perhaps settled long beforehand when the Spireites sold prolific leading marksman Eoin Doyle back in January, has cost Chesterfield dear, because coach Cook is set to drop down a division and take charge at Portsmouth.