Moyes silences the Fergie talk to stir the ghosts of Preston's past

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The Independent Online

Working in the shadow of great names is not something that David Moyes has ever been scared of. Jock Stein signed him as a schoolboy for Celtic, while Sir Tom Finney watches over the young manager in every sense today.

One of the game's greatest-ever players will be at Stamford Bridge to see if Moyes can skirt his way round Chelsea as nimbly as he did 57 years ago. If the Scot can pull off a famous FA Cup shock in the fifth-round tie, though, he may not be around to see Preston North End honour its most celebrated son.

Victory over Claudio Ranieri's cosmopolitan band might just propel Moyes away from Deepdale before a bronze statue is unveiled in April to celebrate Finney's 80th birthday. These days, Finney is honorary president of the club where he won his 76 caps. A famous photograph from 1955 called "The Splash" – in which Finney left Chelsea pursuers in his wake at a waterlogged Bridge – provided the inspiration for the statue.

Sir Alex Ferguson is the latest footballing giant to look over Moyes' shoulder. The Nationwide First Division side's manager is being touted as the next assistant at Manchester United, now that Sir Alex has decided to extend his stay.

Moyes is coy about the subject. The 38-year-old almost joined his compatriot two years ago, before Steve McClaren was given the job. However, after fielding a barrage of questions about "the Fergie link" at a far-busier-than-usual press conference on Thursday, Moyes is irked that the issue is robbing his players of a rare moment in the spotlight. "It was embarrassing," he said later. "Not one of the reporters wanted to speak to my players and they hardly asked me about the game."

Moyes insisted: "I have not heard anything from United. In football, you quickly learn to dismiss the rumours and speculation because if you don't you'll never get your job done. Managing Preston North End is my job. I've got a five-year contract and the only thing on my mind is the Chelsea tie, one of this club's biggest games for decades."

Moyes is a frequent visitor to Old Trafford: watching United's reserves. That helped him prise striker David Healy away to Deepdale, but those trips do not help him gain Fergie's ear any more than any other members of the Scotia Nostra. "Sure, I've asked Sir Alex for advice. But so have plenty of other people. I also speak to Walter Smith at Everton and even my old Celtic gaffer, Billy McNeill."

Moyes' hunger to learn is what has made him one of the most-wanted managers in English football. In four years at Deepdale, he has turned round a club heading to the Third Division into one which is finally living up to its nickname of Proud Preston. But for a 3-0 defeat by Bolton Wanderers last June, in the First Division promotion play-off, Preston would be sharing in the glamour of the Premiership every week. He loyally rejected Southampton's courtship last summer and was given a new contract.

"Losing to Bolton was a huge disappointment for the players and we suffered a bit of a hangover at the start of this season," said Moyes. "Yet I suppose it is a measure of what we have done here in the last few years, that it was a disappointment."

Few places honour the past like Preston. It is the home to the National Football Museum, appropriately for the first winners of the Football League – and the first team to do The Double in 1889 – but when Moyes first went to Deepdale, he felt ghostly echoes. "There was a feeling of history because the old terraces were pretty much the same as they had been in Sir Tom's days. But those days are long gone. We have a modern new ground now and I want to build a modern, new team."

Moyes was barely out of nappies when Preston appeared at Wembley in 1964, when Howard Kendall became the youngest player at 17 to appear in an FA Cup final but was only rewarded with a loser's medal thanks to West Ham. "Unless you are over 40, it is unlikely you'll remember a good Preston side," he said. "The new generation of Preston supporter has not known much pleasure but we want to make our own history with this Preston side."

Chelsea have had a habit of succumbing to modest rivals, so there is no time like the present for Preston to write a new chapter of achievement. "Maybe they will have one of the off-days people keep talking about," Moyes said. "But they have World Cup winners in their team. That gives us a taste of what we missed out on by not making the Premiership. Maybe we can prove we deserve to be there."

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