Second half goals from Tom Bayliss and Liam Lindsay gave Preston North End a Gentry Day win on the final afternoon of the season against Chris Hughton’s Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.
They finished the campaign in 13th spot after their fourth win in a row, as they came from behind after James Garner’s superb 25-yard opener for Forest in the opening 20 minutes; Bayliss nudging home Scott Sinclair’s cross and Lindsay powering a header home, after Ched Evans’ header across goal from Bayliss’ cross-field ball.
Interim head coach Frankie McAvoy’s eighth game in the top job saw two changes from the final home game of the season, with Tom Bayliss starting his first league game since the reverse fixture, back at Deepdale on January 2nd.
Top scorer Sinclair also returned to the side, partnering Evans in attack, with Ben Whiteman and Tom Barkhuizen dropping to the bench for the game played amidst very wet conditions at the City Ground.
The visitors started well and should have been ahead before the tenth minute. A clever throw in from Evans on the left sent skipper Alan Browne down the touchline; he found Cunningham, who delivered a superb ball in for the run of Evans, who had burst into the box and lofted a header over Brice Samba, but just onto the roof of the net from 12 yards out.
But it was the visitors who took the lead on 17 minutes, as a loose ball fell to James Garner in the middle of the pitch, 30 yards from goal, and he unleashed a vicious strike, which took the slightest of deflections off Ryan Ledson, causing it to swerve and dip into the bottom right-hand corner, giving Daniel Iversen no chance and ruining his opportunity of a tenth clean sheet of his loan spell.
Reds captain Lewis Grabban tested Iversen mid-way through the half, as Garner switched the ball out to Anthony Knockaert on the right, who pulled a cross back to the striker on the edge of the penalty area, but his effort was straight at PNE’s Daish stopper.
The Lilywhites came out reinvigorated after the break and were close to levelling matters less than three minutes in as Evans found Browne, who reversed the ball for Scott Sinclair near the penalty spot, only for Joe Worrall to nip in and take the ball off the attacker’s right boot as he was about to pull the trigger.
And they were level on 53 minutes. It was a Ledson ball from inside his own half, threading it right down the middle, brilliantly dummied by Evans, to allow Sinclair to race in from the left and deliver a clever ball across into the six-yard box for Bayliss to divert home from a couple of years out for his first strike in North End colours.
After a spell of PNE pressure, Ryan Yates fired narrowly wide for the hosts after some good play from the right by Knockaert, to create some space for the midfielder to side foot an effort from the edge of the ‘D’.
But PNE were in front at the half’s mid-point and Bayliss was involved again, this time with a superb switch from the left to Evans, who headed back across goal, where Lindsay powered home a header from ten yards out.
The goal was not awarded immediately, as referee Darren Bond needed to discuss an offside call much earlier in the build-up, but after debating with his assistant, the goal was given.
Evans nearly had his own and the Lilywhites’ third just seconds later, after as he showed great strength to hold off Worrall and then run away from him before hitting a hard low effort from 25 yards, arrowed towards the bottom right-hand corner, tipped behind by Samba.
Ben Whiteman and Tom Barkhuizen replaced Ledson – who had just been booked - and goalscorer Bayliss with 20 minutes to go and the changes also saw three attackers, Sinclair and Barkhuizen either side of Evans, as North End looked for a third.
Four minutes were added on by referee Bond, with Sean Maguire and Brad Potts also into the mix for Sinclair and Evans and they took the points to end the season with four straight wins.
Nottingham Forest line-up: Samba, Christie, Worrall, Ribeiro, Mbe Soh, Grabban (c) (Murray, 82), Yates, Krovinovic (Mighten, 74), Knockaert, Taylor, Garner. Subs not used: Smith, Figueiredo, Colback, Jenkinson, Cafu, Blackett, Murray, McKenna.
PNE line-up: Iversen, van den Berg, Storey, Lindsay, Hughes, Cunningham, Ledson (Whiteman, 70), Bayliss (Barkhuizen, 70), Browne (c), Evans (Maguire, 89), Sinclair (Potts, 82). Subs not used: Ripley, Riis, Molumby, Huntington, Gordon.
Referee: Mr D Bond.