Preston North End 1, Chesterfield 1
(Spireites win 4-2 on penalties)
Frenchman Alex Mendy, looking like the calmest man in the incessant rain at Deepdale, slotted home the winning penalty to take Chesterfield into the Northern Region final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
After entering the competition every season since it started it’s the first time the Spireites have reached this stage, where Oldham Athletic await them in the two-legged tie to see who progresses to Wembley.
Craig Westcarr, who’d equalised Jamie McCombe’s early header, saw the first penalty of the shoot-out saved by giant German Thorsten Stuckmann but veteran Graham Alexander soon shot over the bar to level things up.
Tommy Lee saved from Paul Coutts to give Mendy the opportunity to win it, which he did with ease.
Lee returned to the line up for the first time since mid-September but fit- again Jack Lester was only on the bench alongside top scorer Leon Clarke.
Dean Morgan, scorer of five goals in the last three reserves games, was also back in the starting line up, in attack, with a point to prove.
Danny Whitaker also returned in a strong looking line up.
With just 30 seconds on the clock, Scott Griffiths fed Morgan down the left and the raider slotted his shot just wide Stuckmann’s post.
Soon after McCombe went equally close with a header from a right wing corner and Neil Mellor too, headed just too high as the game started quickly.
The imperious Aaron Downes had to block following a run and cross from Jamie Proctor, Mendy shot high and Jordan Bowery forced the keeper to save as the pace continued.
On the quarter hour mark, the sixth corner of the game, they’d been evenly distributed, was headed in by home debutant McCombe following Danny Mayor’s delivery.
Downes had to make a superb block to prevent Proctor’s ball reaching Mellor as North End bossed the play in the aftermath of the goal but seconds later Spireites were level.
The keeper blocked a first time long ranger from Drew Talbot, who was subbed at the death with a nasty looking arm injury, and Westcarr was on hand to prod home the loose ball.
Within a couple of minutes, the scorer curled a left footer inches wide.
Downes again had to make a fine block to keep out Mellor and moments later Westcarr carried on the unpredictability of the match, striking the post with a 25 yard effort. Morgan saw a shot blocked after good work by Talbot and Westcarr as the first class first half ended.
Proctor seized on an error to shoot, Lee saved and Bowery crossed for Whitaker whose shot was deflected for a corner as the game restarted at a similar tempo.
Ford had to block a Coutts cross after he’d made a mistake to allow Preston to raid and Lee had to deal with a skidder from the same player as the atmosphere in the magnificent stadium rose.
Lee had to leap high to push away a Downes deflection as time ran down and Bowery’s final action saw him fail to get a full connection on a pinpoint Morgan cross.
Mellor had two quick chances, Lee saved superbly he then shot just wide ahead of Leon Clarke dragging a shot wide and he then saw a close range stab go straight to the keeper.
Lee saved a Mellor header as the game ended at break neck speed ahead of the Spireites’ successful shoot-out triumph.
Preston: Stuckmann, Gray, C.Morgan, McCombe, Perry, Doyle, Alexander, Coutts, Mayor, Mellor, Proctor. Subs (not used): Arestidou, Carlisle, Daley, McLoughlin, Smith.
Chesterfield: Lee, Talbot (Mattis 90+3), Downes, Ford, Griffiths, Westcarr, Allott, Whitaker, Mendy, Bowery Clarke 77), Morgan. Subs (not used): Fleming, Lester, Obadeyi.
Referee: Mark Haywood (West Yorks).
Booked: Talbot, C.Morgan, Mellor.