Any thoughts that Preston would be on a downer after missing out on automatic promotion on the last day of the season were well and truly put to bed as they breezed past Chesterfield in their play-off semi-final. They won the away leg 1-0 before sealing the deal and a Wembley appearance with a dominant 3-0 win at Deepdale.
Jermaine Beckford stole the headlines on that day with a piece of pure magic. As Preston broke, he spun with the ball, nut-megged the incoming defender before executing a long-range wonder strike from close to the halfway line that sailed over the rapidly back-pedalling Chesterfield goalkeeper.
Beckford is a big game player who seems to perform for boss Simon Grayson. He scored the winner in the 2010 FA Cup clash against Man Utd for Leeds -who were then managed by Simon Grayson- at Old Trafford. Preston really need him to turn up again on Sunday at Wembley. He has scored 12 goals in his last 17 matches and 5 in his last 5 so the signs look good.
Beckford will almost certainly be partnered up front with Joe Garner who has netted 26 goals and the award for League One top goal-scorer. He is also in typically lethal form having netted 6 in 6 games. The two together have proved to be a formidable partnership at this level. It is perhaps Garner though that could be the man that is causing the Swindon defenders to toss and turn in their sleep; he scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 win against Swindon when the two sides clashed in April.
They carry the hopes of Preston fans that have all too often tasted the bitterness of playoff defeat. Preston’s record in playoff finals is infamously poor. The Lilywhites have lost all three of the previous play-off finals that they have been involved in. They have failed to gain promotion in all of the previous nine playoff attempts.
However in manager Simon Grayson they are in seemingly good hands. Grayson has won promotion from League One four times. No manager has achieved more promotions from the third tier of English football. He has also managed in two League One play-off finals in his time and won both of them.
Preston definitely have the form and momentum on their side heading into this encounter.
Opponents Swindon on the other hand have struggled for form in the late stages of the season. However they finished comfortably in the playoffs in fourth position in the league standings. They had a much harder time in getting through the semi-final stage against Sheffield United.
Sheffield United pushed them to the max and the two teams played out a thrilling 5-5 draw in the second leg of the semi-final. Swindon came through with a 7-6 aggregate victory.
Historically Swindon have done well in the playoffs. They have won 3 of 4 appearances in a play-off final.