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Match Report


Posted Thu 10 May 12 at 05:55 AM

PNE 2 Charlton Athletic 2

A fairytale ending saw Graham Alexander score a stunning free kick in the final minute as North End came from two goals down to draw with the League One champions.

The Lilywhites legend curled a right-footed effort from 25 yards out around the Addicks' wall and into the bottom right hand corner before being enveloped by his team-mates and the Town End fans.

It was his final touch in a 20-plus year career and a fitting way to bow out for the No.22 in front of his family and thousands of adoring fans who cheered his every touch.

The day had started with the PNE players and manager welcoming the champions onto the pitch with a guard of honour before they joined with their opponents to welcome 'Grezza'; chairman Peter Ridsdale and Charlton boss Chris Powell both making presentations to the 1,000 game man.

And when he re-entered the field as an 84th minute substitute both sets of fans mirrored the appreciation of the players by uniting to stand and applaud him into the action.

The fact that North End had come from two down to grab a point against the League One winners was almost forgotten in the euphoria of Alexander's jaw-dropping moment, as was Nicky Hunt's first goal for the Club with a long distance strike just before the hour mark.

Hunt had been selected in the middle of midfield, alongside Max Ehmer, with Jamie Proctor returning to the starting line-up for the first time since early March, partnering Chris Holroyd in attack, whilst Paul Coutts took the captain's armband for the first time in three months.

But the champions showed the clinical finishing that has gained them automatic promotion with two first half goals, both capitalising on mistakes by the PNE backline, the first on 11 minutes when Danny Haynes slid the ball past a stranded Andreas Arestidou after the ball had squirmed back to the former Barnsley frontman following a tackle from David Gray.

The second came just after the hour mark when Dany N'Guessan ran onto a short back pass by Gray, drew Arestidou - who was in for the injured Thorsten Stuckmann - and slid the ball into the empty net from the edge of the box.

At half-time manager Graham Westley decided things needed to be shaken up and introduce youth team winger Will Hayhurst into the action for his debut, replacing David Gray; Nicky Hunt going to right back and Coutts moving into the centre of the park and these changes had an immediate effect as the side got onto the front foot, dominating the chances.

First up, Paul Coutts and Danny Mayor combined well from a corner on the left allowing the latter to put a tantalising ball across the six yard box, but no one could convert.

But on 57 minutes a Danny Mayor corner on the left was headed out but only as far as Nicky Hunt who volleyed the ball back from 25 yards out, taking a small deflection taking it into the bottom left hand corner of the Town End goal.

This lifted the team and the crowd as the home side dominated possession, Jamie Proctor holding the ball up well up front and showing good strength and pace against former team-mate Leon Cort.

But it wasn't a forward player but a centre half who almost drew the team level. A clever quick throw in from Hayhurst on the right set up the opportunity for Danny Mayor to deliver a cross in that found Craig Morgan who had a first time effort from eight yards out that the Addicks' stand in keeper John Sullivan saved brilliantly at point blank range.

Instead of a lull, this opportunity was swiftly followed by a swell of noise as Graham Alexander was introduced, replacing Max Ehmer, the No.22 slotting in at the position he is most familiar to North End fans - right back.

Every touch by the 40-year-old was cheered as if it was a goal and every time he got the ball the 12,029 screamed for his to shoot, but he showed the intelligence and maturity to keep the ball and use it effectively and as the time ticked down the special moment arrived.

The fourth official had just signalled for four minutes of added time when Hayhurst was fouled in a right hand channel 25 yards out. Alexander was immediately over it. The Scot waved his team-mates to line up, shaping to deliver to the back post, but instead, almost in slow motion, he caressed the ball with his right foot round the five man Charlton wall and into a tight angle in the bottom right hand corner of the Town End goal.

Every single person in the ground rose to salute a true professional of the game, every one of his team-mates rushing to join the celebrations with the Town End crowd.

Referee Kevin Friend made a name for himself with his decision to book him for his celebration, but there was no dampener that could have been added to that sublime moment of PNE history.

The crowd stayed behind after the final whistle as the team thanked them for their support and the crowd made their final tributes to the career of Graham Alexander on a day that will be remembered for a long time by every one of the 12,029 inside Deepdale.

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