Rotherham United 3 - 1 Preston North End

Match info: League One at New York Stadium

Date: 15/05/2014 KO: 19:45 Ref: Att: 11,576

Home team/scorers Scores Away team/scorers

Rotherham

Wes Thomas 24
Lee Frecklington 34
Kieran Agard 67

3
vs
1

Preston

Paul Gallagher 16

FT (ht: 2-1)

  • Last Updated: May 15 2014, 23:11 BST

Rotherham's dream of back-to-back promotions is still alive after they booked their place in the League One play-off final at Wembley by beating Preston 3-1 in a blockbusting semi-final second leg.

Lee Frecklington celebrates after heading Rotherham ahead
Lee Frecklington celebrates after heading Rotherham ahead

The Millers, who won automatic promotion from League Two last year, have had a magnificent season but they saved one of their best performances for the most important night and prospered thanks to goals from Wes Thomas, Lee Frecklington and Kieran Agard.

It was a trademark display of attacking endeavour, orchestrated by the influential Ben Pringle, which could have yielded a bigger winning margin but was enough to set up a date at the home of football with Leyton Orient.

Simon Grayson's men more than played their part in an enthralling clash as they took the lead early on through Paul Gallagher's free-kick and then twice hit the woodwork in their attempts to get back into it though Jake King and Joe Garner.

But North End, who were among the pre-season favourites to go up, will now spend a fourth season in League One.

The tie was finely poised after Saturday's 1-1 first leg draw at Deepdale, but after a cagey opening the visitors seized the advantage in the 16th minute.

Rotherham defender Kari Arnason needlessly fouled Garner and from the resulting free-kick 30 yards out Gallagher's dangerous delivery evaded everyone, creeping into the far corner.

However, the Millers' response was swift and after Arnason should have atoned for his error almost immediately with a header that was superbly saved by Declan Rudd, they levelled in the 24th minute.

From a free-kick in a similar position to Preston's Pringle whipped in an equally delicious centre, which Thomas got a flying header to and it sailed through the hands of Rudd.

That quick riposte gave the Millers the impetus and again thanks to Pringle's incisive left foot they took the lead 10 minutes before the break.

The midfielder, who attracted interest from Reading earlier in the season, was afforded time and space on the left and sent in a pinpoint delivery which a late-arriving Frecklington superbly headed in off the post.

The game was now completely open and Preston had several chances to claw themselves level before the break, but Garner and Gallagher both shot over.

And the Millers' biggest escape came on the stroke of the interval, goalkeeper Adam Collin left to thank a higher power as he inexplicably allowed John Welsh's shot to slip through his grasp but he breathed a huge sigh of relief as it dropped just wide.

The see-saw nature of the clash continued into the second half and Pringle almost put his side further ahead, but his sweet volley crashed into the bar while North End's top scorer Garner went close to emulating his superb first-leg volley with an effort at the back post from Gallagher's cross which flew over.

After Gallagher wasted a free header from 12 yards the Millers put one foot on Wembley Way in the 67th minute thanks to Agard's 26th goal of the season.

But his strike owed much to the creativity of James Tavernier who foraged down the right, twisted David Buchanan inside and out and rolled the ball across for Agard to turn into the bottom corner.

Preston did not lie down as they desperately tried to mount a recovery, King's 35-yard effort clipping a defender on the way through and crashing into the upright before Garner endured a similar fate, as the Millers did enough to win.

Manager Steve Evans has ranked Rotherham's League One play-off semi-final win over Preston as one of his proudest achievements in the game.

"It feels wonderful, when we came up into League One we were people's favourites to go back down but we worked hard and we have had a fantastic season," the Scot said.

"Over the two games we deserved it, it's a great night for us.

"When we went in front I knew we would win, when we scored the third I thought we might go on and win very comfortably.

"I have had some magical highlights and it will be a very proud moment to walk out at Wembley.

"Tonight ranks right up there, I still maintain that the Aldershot game last year is still the best because we won promotion, but this is up there."

Rotherham will meet Russell Slade's Orient, who led the division for much of the campaign, at Wembley and Evans expects another titanic clash.

"It's my job to make sure everyone enjoys the moment but we will start preparing for Leyton Orient tomorrow," he added. "We will be underdogs when we get to Wembley we know that, they have been top of the league for most of the season.

"We have taken ourselves to the final fence but that is the size of Becher's Brook when you look at the opposition. If I could emulate what some other Scottish managers have done at Wembley I will be happy."

Preston boss Simon Grayson intends to bounce back from this disappointment by delivering automatic promotion next season.

North End accrued enough points over the regular campaign to have won League One had they been in it last season, but they were forced into the play-offs owing to the incessant form of Wolves and Leyton Orient.

And this defeat meant it was a ninth unsuccessful campaign, having never gone up this way.

"It hurts when you lose any football match but when you lose a semi-final it hurts you even more but there's only two teams that can go through," Grayson said.

"It can be a really strong motivation to have in your locker for next year.

"You don't like losing any match and semi-finals are difficult to take.

"I experienced it as a manager with Leeds but we bounced back the next year with automatic promotion and that will be our aim next year because you can't be down for too long."


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