Meet Ned, Preston's shoot-out weapon

Championship play-off
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The Independent Football

When it comes to the play-offs, with the possibility of a vital shoot-out or two, it probably helps to have a Ned Kelly in your camp. In fact, the assistant manager of Preston North End - David Kelly to the world at large, but "Ned" to everyone who has known him since he was re-christened by Gerry Sweeney, his coach at Walsall 20 years ago - happens to boast a better record in shoot-outs than the Australian bushranger who was captured by police in the gun battle of Glenrowan.

When it comes to the play-offs, with the possibility of a vital shoot-out or two, it probably helps to have a Ned Kelly in your camp. In fact, the assistant manager of Preston North End - David Kelly to the world at large, but "Ned" to everyone who has known him since he was re-christened by Gerry Sweeney, his coach at Walsall 20 years ago - happens to boast a better record in shoot-outs than the Australian bushranger who was captured by police in the gun battle of Glenrowan.

"Yeah, I've got quite a decent record in shoot-outs," the Brummie Kelly reflected as he waited for a meeting of the backroom team at Deepdale, to plan for today's Championship play-off first leg at home to Derby. "In fact, I don't remember getting knocked out in one. Touch wood.

"There was one with Walsall just after the play-offs came in, in 1987-88. We played against Bristol City in the Third Division final, home and away. We won 3-1 at Bristol; they won 2-0 at our place; and then we had a penalty shoot-out to settle who would be at home in a deciding match. We won the shoot-out; I scored. We won the deciding game, too."

Seventeen years on, it remains Kelly's only successful campaign in the play-offs. He played in the First Division semi-finals for Graham Taylor's Wolves in 1995 but they were beaten by Bolton. If he helps to guide Preston through this season's play-offs to the Premiership, the retired striker will be one half of a management duo celebrating a feat every bit as fantastical as Wigan Athletic's graduation into the big league.

Down the road from Deepdale at the JJB, they might have been in English football's fourth-flight division eight years ago but they have had Dave Whelan's fortune to assist them. They have also been knocking on the Premiership door with Paul Jewell for two years.

Preston have their proud history - double winners in the Football League's first season and all that - but when Billy Davies succeeded Craig Brown as their manager last September, and Kelly moved from Sheffield United to assist him, North End were facing a relegation battle at the rear end of the Championship table.

"We were 17th or 18th, I think," Kelly recalled. "Back then, the remit was to make sure we survived. Then it was to finish in mid-table. Between us, though, we were always looking to finish in the top six. And now we're in the play-offs we've got a fantastic opportunity. It would be massive for this club if we got into the Premiership."

Indeed, it would. The 39-year-old Kelly was not even born when Preston last played in the top flight, in 1961. An assistant under Ray Matthias at Tranmere and under Neil Warnock at Sheffield United, he played alongside Davies at Leicester City and played under him at Motherwell. Together, the Scot and the former Republic of Ireland international have transformed a small squad which features only a handful of players with Premiership experience - Richard Cresswell, Callum Davidson, Youl Mawene and Brian O'Neill.

Kelly describes Davies as "a real student of the game". "The gaffer is into shapes and patterns and how football's changing, how it's becoming quicker," he said. "He's totally different to Ray Matthias and Neil Warnock but I've learned off all three of them. It was the same with the managers I played under: Jack Charlton, Ossie Ardiles, Kevin Keegan, Lou Macari, Graham Taylor, Graham Turner, John Lyall, Billy Bonds, Peter Reid, David Pleat. They were all totally different, but I learned loads off them... Keegan was brilliant. I loved Keegan. I thought he was fantastic."

Even after Keegan sold him straight on to Wolves after his 24 goals won Newcastle promotion in 1993? "Yeah," Kelly continued. "That's just part of football. I was driving back home at the end of the season and he rang me up and told me that an offer had been accepted. I said, 'No problem. If I'm not going to play, I'd rather go. I know the game'. And then he went and signed Peter Beardsley. I saw Kevin at a do in London a couple of months later and I said, 'See, you can only get quality to replace me'.

"I learned when I had a hard time at West Ham that you've got to find a middle line in football. You've got to be really pleased and disappointed, yes, but you can't be killing yourself and you can't be on the moon."

Kelly's keen sense of perspective was also shaped by the two years he spent working on a factory floor at the Cadbury chocolate plant in Bourneville. "I worked with lads who'd had industrial accidents or who had medical conditions," he reflected. "I was their skivvy. They were super, super blokes - all with different stories of life. I'd probably still be working at Cadbury's if I hadn't got a chance at Walsall."

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