Jermaine Beckford stole the show as Preston booked their first Wembley trip since 1994.
The Lancashire side moved one step away from laying their play-off curse to rest after advancing past Chesterfield in the Sky Bet League One play-off semi-finals.
Seven days after missing out on automatic promotion to the Championship following an agonising loss at Colchester, Beckford’s volley and incredible lob from near the halfway line helped Preston to a 3-0 victory and 4-0 aggregate success.
His goals came either side of a penalty from the division’s top scorer Joe Garner, and ensured Preston were feeling altogether different emotions this Sunday afternoon.
Thursday night’s 1-0 win in Derbyshire was followed up in style as Simon Grayson’s side looked to make the most of their second opportunity having ceded second spot to MK Dons last weekend.
Beckford, who five years ago this week sent a Leeds side managed by Grayson into the second tier, rifled in the opener with a smart volley on the turn. And after Garner converted a spot-kick for his 27th goal of the season after the break, Beckford rounded off the victory with a precise long-range loft into the top corner over a hapless Murphy.
After suffering heartache in each of their previous nine play-off campaigns, North End fans will head to Wembley in two weeks’ time to face either Swindon or Sheffield United with trepidation.
However, having lost just one of their past 21 League One games, they can be cautiously optimistic that the hoodoo could finally be banished at the 10th time of asking, particularly with a strikeforce of Beckford and Garner in their arsenal.
Chesterfield included debutant goalkeeper Joe Murphy, drafted in on Saturday because of an injury to Tommy Lee, in their starting line-up, but it was Preston’s shot-stopper who made the first big contribution nine minutes before the break.
Sam Clucas got behind the Lilyewhites back four and was fed by Sam Morsy, yet his left-footed try hit the outstretched leg of on-loan keeper Sam Johnstone and looped onto the roof of the net.
It proved a pivotal save as, just two minutes later, the hosts were ahead with their first real chance.
Calum Woods’ free-kick from near halfway was met by Garner’s flick-on and Beckford took one touch before hooking beyond Murphy on the half turn.
It was his goal four days ago that had given North End a first-leg lead and this was his 11th strike in 17 games since returning from a serious ear infection which he conceded had made him contemplate retirement back in February.
The Spireites looked to hit back before half-time as John Welsh diverted Gary Robert’s dangerous cross behind and Paul Gallagher cleared Sam Hird’s header off the line.
But their slim chances of joining Walsall and Manchester United as the only teams to beat North End at Deepdale in six months were ended when Murphy conceded a penalty just after the hour mark.
Another Garner flick-on engineered the move and although Neil Kilkenny’s pass was wide of former Spireites loanee Daniel Johnson, he got there before Murphy and was tripped heading out of the box.
On this day last year Garner’s incredible volley against Rotherham had proved in vain over the two legs but, at the same end, he slammed home a penalty which meant far more in the grander scheme of things.
Jimmy Ryan saw a deflected effort fall narrowly wide and Jay O’Shea’s effort came back off the woodwork, yet this was to be Preston’s day and Beckford provided an exclamation mark with three minutes remaining.
The on-loan Bolton forward spotted Murphy off his line and lofted the ball home supremely from long range to spark a premature mini pitch invasion, which was followed by a much bigger one on the final whistle.