Football Play-Offs: Happy Wanderers go proudly about business: Preston overhauled after taking half-time lead

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The Independent Online
Wycombe Wanderers. . .4

Preston North End. . .2

IN THE years when Martin O'Neill played for Nottingham Forest his old mentor, Brian Clough, liked to point out a basic truth of the manager's lot. 'He always said to me the only inevitability about this particular job is that you get the sack at one stage or other.' It says much about the realistic attitude of this engaging Irishman that he should call such a memory to mind in the aftermath of his greatest success as a manager - thus far.

Saturday's exhuberant victory in the Third Division play-off final represented Wycombe Wanderers' third Wembley final since O'Neill took over in February 1990.

Wycombe's proud history is being newly adorned. Their success has seen average gates at their spectator-friendly pounds 3m stadium rise from 1,200 to 6,000. The Adams Park faithful have been rewarded with style as well as substance. Saturday's performance, in which Wycombe fell 2-1 behind after missing a handful of early chances and then scored three times in the second half, was characteristic.

'When you consider we are a Third Division side with eight of the team which won promotion and three free transfers thrown in, I really think we were absolutely class,' O'Neill said. Their opponents were a class below - as the Preston manager, John Beck, acknowledged - but, strong and direct in the tradition of Beck's old Cambridge United, they seemed on the brink of success after Ian Bryson's startling overhead kick and a header from Paul Raynor had given them their half-time lead.

The man who helped turn the match was Wanderers' 34-year-old forward Simon Garner, late of West Brom and Blackburn Rovers. Garner, who stoutly maintains that the play-offs are unjust, has, by a quirk of fate, been involved in seven of the last eight finals. An assiduous smoker, he moves with the grace of a fun runner. But his instincts are fine-tuned.

His measured conversion of a hopeful punt upfield brought Wycombe level after 47 minutes. And his unselfish continuance of a flowing counter attack when he had a legitimate chance turned his possibility into a sweet certainty for the incoming Dave Carroll, who gave Wycombe the lead.

Goals: Bryson (32) 0-1; Thompson (33) 1-1; Raynor (37) 1-2; Garner (47) 2-2; Carroll (57); 3-2; Carroll (72) 4-2.

Wycombe Wanderers (4-4-2): Hyde; Cousins, Crossley, Creaser, Titterton; Carroll, Reid, Ryan, Thompson; Guppy, Garner. Substitutes not used: Brown, Hemmings, Moussaddik (gk).

Preston North End (4-4-2): Woods; Fensome, Moyes, Squires, Kidd; Ainsworth, Cartwright, Whalley, Bryson; Raynor, Ellis. Substitutes not used: Conroy, Lucas, Berryman (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).