Rasiak penalty miss eases Preston's path to showdown with West Ham

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The Independent Football

Preston win 2-0 on aggregate

Preston win 2-0 on aggregate

Victory by a two-goal margin was Derby's minimum requirement to keep alive their hopes of reaching the Championship play-off final, but it proved beyond them as Billy Davies capped an impressive first season in charge at Deepdale by masterminding the downfall of George Burley's team last night.

A superbly organised Preston defence rarely allowed Derby a sight of goal as they steadfastly protected their 2-0 first-leg lead. Derby had the chance to set up a frantic finale when they were awarded a dubious penalty nine minutes from tim, but the spot-kick by their leading scorer, Grzegorz Rasiak, hit a post and was cleared. Preston will meet West Ham in the final in Cardiff on 30 May.

Early indications were that Preston had chosen the conservative option with the midfielders Brian O'Neil and Paul McKenna both taking up deep positions. Derby had licence to attack, but found chances difficult to create against a determined defence.

When Inigo Idiakez took a free-kick after 33 minutes, Paul Peschisolido's pace gained him a yard on Claude Davis, the Preston centre-back. The Derby striker looked as though he might go down in search of a penalty but he stayed on his feet and the goalkeeper Carlo Nash rushed out to clear.

Derby appeared unhappy with some of the decision by the referee, Richard Beeby', but they benefited from some leniency on his part just before half-time when the defender Mo Konjic knocked Eddie Lewis off the ball inside his own penalty area, with the aid of a hefty shove in the back.

Burley sent on Marco Reich for Tommy Smith and replaced Jeff Kenna with Ian Taylor in the hope of cracking Preston's composure, but it was the visiting side who looked as though they might score. Lee Camp was called on to beat the ball away as O'Neil tried to force it home from close range.

Derby were awarded a penalty in the 81st minute when Chris Lucketti was judged to have fouled Rasiak, but the Polish front man hit a post with his spot-kick before the ball was hustled away, at which point Derby's hopes of keeping the tie alive were extinguished.

Derby County (4-4-2): Camp; Kenna (Taylor, 61), Konjic, Huddlestone, Jackson; Bolder, Idiakez, Bisgaard, Smith (Reich, h-t); Rasiak, Peschisolido. Substitutes not used: Miller (gk), Mills, Junior.

Preston North End (4-4-2): Nash; Mawene, Lucketti, Davis, Hill; Sedgwick, McKenna, O'Neil (Etuhu, 84), Lewis (Broomes, 90); Nugent (Agyemang, 86), Cresswell. Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Mears.

Referee: R Beeby (Northants).

Fever pitch

* League Two play-off semi-finals second legs: Macclesfield (0) v Lincoln (1), tomorrow, KO 12.05pm; Southend (0) v Northampton (0), tomorrow, KO 6.15pm.

* League Two final:

Saturday 28 May, KO 3pm.

* League One final: Sheffield Wednesday v Hartlepool, Sunday 29 May, KO 3pm. * Championship final: West Ham v Preston, Monday 30 May, KO 3pm.

All finals at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff