Alexander brings curtain down on illustrious career with fairytale finish

In the build up to Saturday’s final home game of the season against Charlton, midfielder Graham Alexander announced that he would conclude his career to concentrate on coaching at the age of 40.

After an fantastic career spanning 22 years, Alexander finished his playing days with 1,023 appearances with 423 of those appearances coming in the Lilywhite shirt of Preston North End. Despite a three year stint at neighbours Burnley, ‘Grezza’ will go down as one of the greatest players every to put on a white shirt.

With safety secured for North End and visitors Charlton already declared champions, the game was setup to be a typical end of season affair played in second gear. Charlton rested their top scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips and skipper Johnnie Jackson had to be content with a place on the bench with Lee Cook preferred to him in the left midfield role. David Gray and Jamie Proctor came into starting positions for North End and German keeper Thorsten Stuckmann was replaced by Andres Arestidou.

The game started rather slowly with both sides stroking the ball around at a pedestrian pace with neither side really threatening. However, that would soon change as Charlton began to gain some initiative. Lightning quick striker Danny Haynes latched on to Danny Hollands through ball and raced clear only for him to be tackled well by Gray. However, with Arestidou off his line, Haynes picked himself up and stroked the ball into the net to give the Addicks an eleventh minute lead. With just ten minutes to go before the break,Preston’s defensive frailties soon again became apparent as full back David Gray sold his keeper short with a poor back pass in which former Lincoln striker Dany N’Guessan capitalised on to double the champions lead going into the break.

At half time, with no real forward presence Youth academy graduate Will Hayhurst was introduced into the game for his senior debut for Preston and he almost immediately gave Charlton full back Chris Solly a fright with his quick feet. After the break Preston began to recover and create a few chances of their own with Danny Mayor up to his old tricks beating players at will and linking up with the superb Paul Coutts to try and get Preston back into the game and on the fifty seventh minute mark North End pulled one back through a very unlikely source. A dangerous Danny Mayor corner was only half cleared to the edge of the box to full back Nicky Hunt to take full advantage by unleashing a sublime volley to beat helpless keeper John Sullivan.

This sparked the North End faithful into life as they willed their team on to try and finish the season on a high in front of their own fans.Preston pushed for an equaliser with Craig Morgan and Danny Mayor going close for North End forcing good saves out of the Charlton goalkeeper. With six minutes left, Graham Alexander was introduced for his final appearance at Deepdale replacing defensive midfielder Max Ehmer. Alexander immediately showed a few nice touches and presented the chance for Jamie Proctor to level the scores only for his tame shot to be comfortably saved.

As the fourth official lifted his board revealing four minutes were to be added on, referee Kevin Friend awarded North End a free kick on the edge of the box. Paul Coutts immediately ran over to the ball and picked it up and placed it on the ground for Graham Alexander to float it into the box.

The veteran midfielder shaped up to cross it into the crowded penalty area only for him to change his angle and curl the ball beautifully into the bottom corner. The entire home crowd were sent into raptures as Alexander ran arms raised and threw himself into the first few rows of the Alan Kelly town end only for the unsympathetic referee to award him a yellow card. Never have I seen such a roar or experienced such a better moment at Deepdale and never I’m sure in any fans wildest dreams could a better script have been written for a true legend to end his career in such style with even an applause from the Charlton fans who appreciated what ‘Grezza’ meant to the North End faithful and how he contributed so much to the game over his 1,023 games.

Alexander’s last touch in professional football was to curl home a last minute equaliser as the game ended 2-2 as both sides were greeted at the final whistle with a standing ovation. At the end of every season, for the last home game, all the North End players do a lap of honour of the field to show their appreciation to the fans. At the back of all the players was Alexander with his children, wearing a North End scarf  waving goodbye to the home crowd. All of the North End faithful took to their knees to applaud the former Scotland international for his efforts in his ten season spell at the club as he signed off with a tear in his eye.

Thank you ‘Grezza’ you’re a true legend of Preston North End!