Football: Worthy Wycombe work it out

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The Independent Online
Wycombe Wanderers. . . . . .4

Thompson 33, Garner 47, Carroll 57, 72

Preston North End. . . . . .2

Bryson 32, Raynor 37

Attendance: 40,109

JUSTICE was done at Wembley when Wycombe Wanderers twice came from behind to dent Preston's pride and win promotion to the Second Division of the Endsleigh League. The result reflected not only the balance of this game but also of the season.

There is no doubting the fundamental flaws of play-offs as an afterthought to League competition - a cruel stagger towards the tape after a marathon season - but no doubting either, the prolonged interest, excitement and revenue they provide. It being the will of the clubs and probably the fans, except those wallowing in the immediate disappointment of defeat, they should probably continue, though perhaps with one simple change. One-match semi-finals, with home advantage for the highest-placed teams, would be fairer and might diminish the potential for crowd trouble.

All was fair yesterday in a match of good quality, most of it from Wycombe, who had finished the season three points ahead of Preston.

There were entertaining contrasts too. The founder members of the Football League confronted its newest club with the direct style that had served their manager John Beck so well at Cambridge United, while Wycombe's passing game, to which Wembley's turf is well suited, aspired to the standards with which their manager Martin O'Neill had been instilled as a player at Nottingham Forest. Afterwards he said that he felt vindicated at having turned down the manager's job at the City Ground last summer.

In Steve Thompson, Wycombe had the game's brightest presence. He unnerved an inflexible Preston defence from a position between midfield and attack with some darting runs and perceptive passing. Nicky Reid and Simon Garner provided the nous expected of experienced pros.

Twice Thompson might have given them an early lead but shot wide of either post. He then supplied Dave Carroll with a through pass which the winger himself wasted. A neat four-man move, ending with Garner dummying cleverly and Steve Guppy shooting straight at Steve Woods, should also have brought a goal.

Such profligacy was punished by Preston in a spell of three goals in five minutes which left Wycombe bemused and behind at the break.

Preston's two strikes were isolated moments of excellence. First Andy Fensome's long throw was flicked on by Tony Ellis and Ian Bryson's bicycle-kick found the corner of the net. Within 30 seconds Wycombe were level though when Garner sent Thompson clear and his shot under Woods was turned into his own net by Jamie Squires.

Preston regained the lead when Paul Raynor glanced home a cross by Ellis, the division's top scorer with 31 goals, but they were simply overwhelmed in the second half.

Garner slipped home Guppy's through ball two minutes after the restart then set up a simple sidefooted goal for Carroll, who also scored the fourth with a crisp shot in off a post. Wanderers were home.

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

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

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).