Taken from 'The Origins of the Football League - the first season 1888/89' by Mark Metcalf and published by Amberley Publishing
On Saturday 9 February 1889 Preston North End beat Aston Villa in the final Division One match of the season and by doing so confirmed their place in history by going undefeated in the League. They later won the FA Cup and rightly became known as THE INVINCIBLES. This is how the match at Villa was reported on.
9 February 1889
Aston Villa 0 v. Preston 2
When these sides had last clashed at Wellington Road during the previous season’s FA Cup competition it proved a historic occasion when the game was abandoned after the crowd invaded the pitch with North 3-1 to the good. Although a replay date was agreed the FA intervened to order the result to stand. This was the first of a handful of first-class games in English football to remain uncompleted.
Immense interest attached to the visit of the Preston team to Birmingham today. It was their last League match and they were to meet the only one of the other eleven members of the League whom they had not beaten in the tournament. When the Villa were at Deepdale the score was a goal each, so that today’s game was expected to be the greatest of the series. Unfortunately the North End were without the valuable services of Robertson, who fractured his collarbone at Bootle a week ago.
Ten thousand spectators gathered. The ground had a thin covering of snow and there was a wind blowing. The North End kicked off with the sun in their eyes, and the game became fast. Hodgetts and Allen darted down the left, but were pulled up by Drummond and shot over and play of a give and take character followed. After pretty passing Dewhurst centred, Goodall shooting over, and a beautiful centre by Gordon missed right in front. North End was now pressing and from a corner Thompson headed against the bar.
An excellent run followed by the Villa forwards, but Howarth pulled them up and the visitors’ right made away, the ball again being put wide of the Villa posts. The home backs were in rare trim, and their forwards were very speedy. Ross won another corner, Gordon heading by the upright. Green and Allen were then rather dangerous, and made Holmes kick out, but the ball was soon again near Warner, who had to stop a shot from Ross. Brown and Hunter were let in through misunderstanding and Mills- Roberts conceded a corner. The Villains were playing desperately hard, but kept in check by the North End backs. The ball was frequently in touch through the wind.
A grand attempt by Brown made Dr Robert Mills-Roberts give a corner away from under the bar. Play was now very even. From a free-kick Brown was again looking dangerous but was again repulsed by Howarth and Thomson. Thomson coming away, he and Goodall got right through the Villa backs, but the latter shot over the bar. A corner then fell to North End, and the game was taken in midfield. North End got a free-kick for a foul, but soon Holmes had to head away, and Green shot over. At the interval no goals were scored.
No time was lost in crossing over and after Devey had kicked out Gordon won a corner. In a minute Dewhurst scored a goal with a splendid shot. North End had a free-kick near Warner, but Hodgetts got clear away, but the game was soon again near Trainer, where beautiful passing ended in Thomson shooting wide and after another run by Hodgetts Ross shot wide. Give and take play now became the order, the halfbacks on both sides showing up well until Ross again shot. Howarth neatly robbed Hodgetts and Allen, but Green centred from the right and Hodgetts missed another chance. Gordon ran down the right, but was floored by Cox, but Ross centred and Thomson just missing. Dewhurst again putting the ball through. The point was protested against for offside, and after some consideration the goal was allowed. This was after sixteen minutes’ play. On restarting Gordon again centred and Ross put the ball wide.
Villa seemed to fall off, but from a pass by Hunter, Hodgetts struck the crossbar and Mills-Roberts put over, the corner coming to nothing. North End was again threatening when they were ruled offside. Repeated efforts of the Villa forwards were nullified and from a pass by Gordon, Goodall nearly scored another. North End continued to have the best of matters, and was very aggressive, winning two more corners and winning a good game by two to none.
(Report from Cricket and Football Field, 9 February 1889)
North End arrived at New Street Station at seven minutes to three and had dressed in the saloon, so no time was lost in starting. From the start it was obvious that the Villa were carefully trained and they exhibited some fine fast runs. On the other hand North End relied on their passing, but though favoured by the wind could do nothing to half-time in the way of shooting. In fact at the interval it was difficult to surmise which way fortune would turn.
However, in the second half the Prestonians soon showed their superiority and played a grand passing game to the finish.
The Villa appeared to have been over-trained and fell away greatly towards the end. Their forwards showed poor combination, Brown, Green and Hodgetts being the best. Devey was the best of the halves. Both backs played well. Warner could not have stopped either goal of the winners, who all played grandly. Drummond was a good substitute for Robertson. The defence was very safe, and the forward play much admired.
Among the Preston North End it was a case of superlatively fine individual and collective work. Nothing grander than the North End play in the second half of the game has ever been seen at Perry Barr.
The perfection of unity of action, through the command over the ball, dashing attack, impregnable defence, and untiring physical exertion were all seen at their best in this grand eleven.
Every pass those forwards made had some intent and purpose; each man knew where the ball would go, why it was sent there, and who would receive it.
There were lessons given at Perry Barr on Saturday for even the Villa to take to heart. It was combination of the highest order; a picture and poem of football motion. The Prestonians have left a magnificent impression behind them on that huge assemblage who saw them beat the Villa.
(Birmingham Daily Times)
The general expression of opinion after the match was that Preston North End was the cleverest Association team in the world; and after Saturday’s display I am bound to concur in this opinion.ount
(Birmingham Correspondent, Athletic News)
The feat North End have accomplished, gaining eighteen victories and four draws – a record for which no comparison can fairly be found at English Association football. Attention will now be directed towards the progress of Preston in the competition for the Association Cup. On public form Preston once more look to have a better chance of ultimate success than any other eleven and whether they win or not, their record in the League matches must stamp them, as the champion club of 1888/89.