Chesterfield. . . . . . . .1
REMINDERS of Preston's golden age are thin on the ground. The iron and brickwork of rundown Deepdale may have altered little since North End were a force in the Fifties, but the football taking place on the artificial pitch bears few similarities with the game Tom Finney played.
Lean times have long since settled here and not for the first time desperate straits have provoked a like response. Hence, when dark days descended again last winter, Preston turned to John Beck.
When the talk is of the beautiful game, Beck's is a name not frequently mentioned. A year ago, when Cambridge United sacked him, it was not so much to a chorus of approval as a carnival of celebration. Yet, only five months before, Cambridge had been reflecting on an uninterrupted rise from the old Fourth Division to the brink of the Premier League.
No one argued with Beck's results; the quarrel was with his means of achieving them. An artless game plan, executed with almost brutal aggressiveness, sometimes led the Abbey Stadium to resemble an animated pin-table, while off the field Beck allied a training regime of military harshness to eccentric motivational ploys and a taste for brazen gamesmanship. It left an image even success could not soothe.
By all accounts, Beck intends taking Preston along the same route. The pitch has forced some modification but core tactics remain unchanged: long passes towards the corners, throws or crosses into the box, a pure percentage game.
So far, dissent has been muted, but then yesterday's fourth consecutive home win made Preston clear Third Division leaders. Chesterfield, with seven successive defeats now, led when Neil Lyne punished a first-half defensive mix-up, but Cambridge old boy Paul Raynor drilled home an equaliser before top-scorer Tony Ellis raised his tally to 12 with an 18- minute hat-trick. Lawrie Madden, Chesterfield's veteran defender, was sent off for arguing over the penalty that set Ellis rolling.
As Cambridge found, while the team wins, tolerance is easy. Even Tom Finney, now a proud club president, voices approval: 'Preston were well liked as a football side but that was 40 years ago,' Finney said. 'You have to move with the times. People say it is not pretty but I'd sooner John plays in a way that wins than stick by traditions and get nowhere.'
The Deepdale crowd, meanwhile, have embraced the 39-year-old Londoner as a folk hero. They forgave last season's relegation and made him an 'honorary northerner', complete with cloth cap. This year, at Beck's invitation, a trumpeter sounds a cavalry charge behind the Town End goal each time Preston attack.
'It's not my style,' Finney says, 'but I have been watching an unsuccessful Preston team for a long time and if John Beck can get us on the move I'll back him all the way.'