PNE v WALSALL (JPT AREA FINAL 1)
THE SADDLERS stepped out for this Johnstone's Paint Trophy Northern Area Final first leg at Deepdale knowing that we sat just 180 minutes from a first-ever appearance at Wembley.
With the live Sky Sports cameras in attendance, the Walsall were in great voice as the game got underway and it inspired the team to a lively start with Anthony Forde in particular causing all sorts of problems for the home defence.
Despite Walsall starting the better of the two teams, it was Preston who had the best early chance on eight minutes when Beckford was denied from close range by a superb reaction save from Richard O'Donnell.
As the home side started to get into their stride, Chris Humphrey fired one over as he cut inside then James O'Connor had to clear in front of goal as Preston made progress down the right.
There was another smart stop from O'Donnell to deny Beckford again as the front-man found plenty of space in front of goal.
A neat passage of play from The Saddlers ended with Michael Cain dragging his low effort just wide.
Some good possession from Walsall saw us win a second free-kick in a short space of time for a foul on Bradshaw. Andy Taylor stepped up and his effort struck the foot of the post and rebounded away.
The last action of an energetic half saw Cain make progress before hitting a strike that was pushed away by the 'keeper as it was goalless going into the break.
The second period started with a ball from James O'Connor flash across the face of goal before some patient build-up play ended with Michael Cain arrowing a powerful drive over the crossbar.
Lively start to the half again by Walsall as Jordan Cook wins a free-kick which was curled harmlessly into the hands of the 'keeper by Forde.
Some neat link-up play just outside the area saw Sawyers feed Bradshaw who was pulled back by Huntington. The resulting free-kick from Cook was on target but punched away by the 'keeper.
A foul out wide by James O'Connor saw him pick up a yellow card as the resulting free-kick lands on the roof of the net from Gallagher. Moments later at the other end, Bradshaw went down inside the area but the referee waves away the appeals.
The first change for Walsall saw James Baxendale replace Cook with 12 minutes to go and he almost went through straight away but the 'keeper was alert to gather at his feet.
A poor clearance from the 'keeper fell to Sawyers who was pulled back as he looked to make progress. The resulting free-kick was tucked home by Anthony Forde to make it 1-0 with six minutes to go!
It was dreamland in the next raid when a loose back-pass was seized upon by Tom Bradshaw who tucked the ball home with much aplomb to make it 2-0.
There was a late change as Ashley Grimes replaced Bradshaw as the Walsall fans continued to give excellent backing to their team.
In the end, the full-time whistle signalled an excellent 2-0 win.