Football: Taylor shakes Preston again

Preston North End 1 Gillingham 1
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The Independent Online
JUST AS nothing could separate Wigan and Manchester City in the first leg of their semi-final play-off on Saturday, so the other two teams contending for promotion to the First Division were also locked at 1-1 yesterday after an intensely competitive match adorned by an outstanding individual goal by the Gillingham striker Robert Taylor.

The same player had thwarted Preston with a late equaliser when the teams last met in the league in early March, and he repeated the feat with 10 minutes left to give Gillingham a marvellous opportunity to reach both Wembley and the higher level for the first time in their 106-year history.

Preston, who had gone ahead in the 54th minute through the veteran David Eyres, enjoyed more of the possession and with a superior midfield seemed to have the match under control. But this is a Gillingham side blessed with unquenchable spirit, and inspiration came just when it was needed. Indeed, Taylor, the Gillingham Player of the Year, might have won the game in injury time, but took a touch too many after John Hodge, on as a substitute, had opened Preston up down the right.

More than 18,000, including 3,000 up from Kent, were packed into Deepdale, creating the kind of atmosphere unique to these heart-stopping occasions. The players responded to it in a frenetic opening in which the Preston captain, Sean Gregan, set the tone by being booked in the first minute for a juddering challenge on his opposite number Andy Hessenthaler.

With Karl Asaba unsettling the Preston defence with his pace and strength on the ball, Gillingham were giving as good as they got.

But Preston were using the width of the pitch better and beginning to make their final ball count, and when Graham Alexander lured Vince Bartram off his line with a curling cross, the 35-year-old Eyres bravely held off the challenge of Guy Butters to twist and head the ball over the stranded Gillingham keeper and into the net.

Gillingham looked as if they would have to settle for the narrowest of defeats. But then Taylor picked up the ball midway inside the Preston half and, with not much on, cleverly drew defenders towards him before darting into space and bending a precision shot just inside the far post from 25 yards.

Goals: Eyres (54) 1-0; Taylor (79) 1-1.

Preston North End (4-4-2): Lucas; Alexander, Murdock, Jackson, Ludden; Cartwright, Gregan, Rankine, Eyres; Macken (Harris, 88), Nogan (Appleton, 77). Substitutes not used: Kidd, Harris.

Gillingham (5-3-2): Bartram; Southall, Carr, Pennock, Butters, Patterson (Hodge, 69); Hessenthaler, Smith, Galloway (Brown, 69); Asaba (Saunders, 86), Taylor.

Referee: J A Kirkby (Sheffield).

Bookings: Preston: Gregan, Macken.

Man of the match: Eyres.

Attendance: 18,584.