Swindon Town have been consigned to another season in League One after suffering a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Preston North End in the League One Play-Off Final this evening.
Town’s Wembley dream took only a matter of minutes to be turned into a nightmare as Jermaine Beckford’s early opener was compounded by injury woes, with Nathan Thompson being forced off after suffering a relapse of his hamstring injury.
Those two early blows shook the Robins to their very core and an impressive Preston North End outfit were waiting to pounce, Paul Gallagher helping himself to his second assist of the evening as his corner was headed home by Paul Huntington.
Swindon’s evening was only going to get worse as Beckford added his second and Preston’s third of the game on the stroke of half-time, after Michael Smith was guilty of missing a sitter.
Preston were much the better side and they deservedly increased their advantage just shy of the hour mark, Beckford being allowed to gallop towards goal unmarked before applying the finishing touches.
Town did go close to grabbing a consolation goal late on as Jordan Turnbull’s pile-driver brought a superb save from Sam Johnstone, before the North End custodian did even better minutes later as he somehow tipped Jon Obika’s downward header around the post.
With 46 games of blood, sweat and tears coming down to one final battle for a place in next season’s Championship, Town were handed a major boost with both of the Thompson brothers fit enough to be included in their matchday squad.
Nathan made a miraculous recovery from a torn hamstring – sustained in the 5-5 draw with Sheffield United only last week – to lead his boyhood club out at Wembley, whilst younger sibling Louis made his long-awaited return from torn shoulder ligaments to take his place on the bench.
Town Boss Mark Cooper made two changes in total for Swindon’s biggest game in their last 15 years, Harry Toffolo finally shook off a dead leg to take his place at left wing-back, with Sam Ricketts dropping to the bench alongside Jermaine Hylton who made way for Jon Obika to lead the line alongside Michael Smith.
Preston North End, on the other hand, were able to name an unchanged Starting XI for the Final, but Manager Simon Grayson was forced into altering the personnel on his bench with Kyel Reid replacing Callum Robinson – who had been recalled by parent club Aston Villa prior to the game.
With both teams having put so much hard and preparation in the build-up to this evening’s winner takes all clash, it was no surprise Town imploded when their game-plan was undone within a matter of minutes.
Nathan Thompson gave away a soft free-kick after sending Jermaine Beckford to the ground, and the former Leeds United man got revenge seconds later as he reacted quickly to lash home Paul Gallagher’s delicious delivery from close-range.
Town were dealt a further almighty hammer blow in the wake of that early opener however, as Thompson – who was a major doubt leading up to the game – had to be stretchered off as his hamstring gave away once more.
It was heartbreaking scenes for both the skipper and Town failed to recover from those two big set-backs in quick succession, as another set-piece yielded yet another goal for rampant North End.
Sam Ricketts – who had replaced the injured Thompson – was unable to add any steel to the Town backline as Gallagher’s free-kick perfectly picked out defender Paul Huntington who had the simple task of glancing home Preston’s second of the evening.
Town did muster up a good response as they forced a flurry of corners, but they were unable to make the most of their prolonged spell of pressure as Preston stood up to everything that was thrown at them.
But, as we all know, football can all so often be a cruel game and Town found that out to their cost as half-time approached, Michael Smith had a glorious chance to haul the Robins back into the contest as he sent a diving header wide, before Preston delivered the ultimate of sucker-punches at the other end.
Having switched off after that spurned opportunity, North End broke forward with a deadly pace and swagger and they got their just rewards for a clinical first-half display, Beckford turning Jordan Turnbull inside out before drilling home his second of the evening.
Town had dominated possession but they failed to do anything with it, whilst you would have put your house on Preston scoring every time they poured forward, such was their attacking prowess.
Unfortunately, Town’s fortunes failed to improve after the break as Preston remained in the ascendency, Wes Foderingham’s sublime save to tip Beckford’s effort round the post only delaying the inevitable.
Only moments after Bailey Wright had sent his header wide, Beckford burst clean through on goal once again and he slotted home past Foderingham to seal his hat-trick and all but secure Preston’s place in the Championship for 2015/16.
Louis Thompson made his long-awaited return from injury as he replaced Ben Gladwin, but the Norwich City loanee could not alter proceedings as Swindon continued to be brushed aside with ease.
Nathan Clarke’s header brought an easy stop from Foderingham before Jon Obika warmed the gloves of North End ‘keeper Sam Johnstone, whilst Harry Toffolo was replaced by leading scorer Andy Williams as Town attempted to go down with a fight.
But, Preston were largely untroubled as Smith sent a horrible shot miles over the crossbar, whilst second-half sub Kevin Davies could only plant a header well wide at the other end as the tempo somewhat seeped out of what had been a pulsating play-off final.
Town did attempt to turn on the style in the closing stages as they peppered the Preston goal with a flurry of efforts, but it was too little too late as Sam Johnstone produced two stunning stops to deny both Turnbull and Obika.
Preston remained tight and compact as they sat on their more than comfortable lead, and they were thoroughly worthy winners as Town were forced to suffer heartbreak at Wembley for the third time in five years.
FINAL SCORE: SWINDON TOWN 0-4 PRESTON NORTH END – LEAGUE ONE PLAY-OFF FINAL – WEMBLEY STADIUM.
SCORERS – Jermaine Beckford (2, 44, 57), Paul Huntington (13).
SWINDON TOWN (3-5-2) – Foderingham; Stephens, N Thompson (C) (Sam Ricketts 5), Turnbull; Byrne, Kasim, Luongo, Gladwin (Louis Thompson 58), Toffolo (Andy Williams 66); Smith, Obika.
Subs Not Used – T Belford, Branco, Rodgers, Hylton.
BOOKED – Yaser Kasim
PRESTON NORTH END (4-3-3) – Johnstone; Clarke (C), Wright, Huntington, Woods; Welsh, Kilkenny, Johnson (Scott Laird 82); Beckford (Kevin Davies 67), Gallagher (Alan Browne 36), Garner.
Subs Not Used – Stuckmann, Humphrey, Reid, Hugill.
Referee – Andy Madley.
Attendance – 48, 236.