North End kept alive the red rose in the 2015/16 Capital One Cup as they progressed to the second round with a 3-1 victory over Steve Davis’ Crewe at the Alexandra Stadium.
Jordan Hugill opened the scoring, winning a penalty and converting it after only four minutes and Will Keane grabbed his first competitive goal for the Club just nine minutes later from ten yards out.
The home side pulled a goal back nine minutes before the interval when King converted from Inman’s squared ball, but Josh Brownhill confirmed PNE’s place in the second round as he volleyed home from the edge of the box with four minutes left.
It was a blistering start from the Lilywhites and in particular the front two. Hugill replaced Garner in the starting line-up in one of five changes; Woods, Kilkenny, Browne and Brownhill also given opportunities.
And it was the No.25 who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck early. Excellent closing down play from the Middlesbrough-born forward forced Alex keeper Ben Garratt into a mistake, the young stopper bringing Jordan and Scott Duncan having no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Hugill stepped up and fired his 18 yard effort into the top left hand corner giving the Railwaymen’s No.1 no chance.
There was some excellent short and quick passing from the Lilywhites who were sat in the Crewe half in the opening ten minutes and it was no surprise when they doubled their lead.
On 13 minutes it was two after the Crewe defence couldn’t clear Greg Cunningham’s left hand cross and Keane was on hand to fire home low and hard from ten yards out.
It could have been out of sight before the half hour mark as firstly Keane dispossessed George Ray and raced into a right hand channel, but his shot was well-blocked by Nugent with Brownhill in a good position.
And then Hugill missed an open goal after a brilliant passing move that carved open the Crewe defence. Ben Nugent gave the ball away and Josh Brownhill fed Keane, who in turn fed Hugill, eight yards out in front of an empty goal, but he sliced the ball wide left.
And the home side took some solace from not finding themselves three or four down and reduced the arrears on 36 minutes - Adam King firing low with his left foot into bottom right hand corner after a ball pulled back by Brad Inman from left hand corner of the box.
The second half started in a similar fashion to the first, with North End on the attack and four minutes in a strong run from Browne on the right got towards the final third, before he squared to midfield partner Brownhill, who struck a low drive from 25 yards that hit the post and went wide.
Crewe broke and at the other end Turton delivered from the right for Haber who headed down, the ball seemingly destined for the bottom left hand corner, only for a world class one-handed save from Pickford to push the ball round the post for a corner.
Chris Humphrey replaced Bailey Wright just after this chance with a change of shape to 4-4-2 and it almost paid immediate dividends, Will Kane racing at the home defence before firing a curling effort from 25 yards just wide of the right hand post.
The woodwork again denied North End a third on 65 minutes as Greg Cunningham’s reaction header from Kilkenny’s right wing free kick came off the cross bar with Garratt beaten.
Joe Garner came on for goalscorer Hugill with nine minutes to go and almost had an immediate impact, a shot on the spin after a Cunningham header just over the bar from the No.14.
Goegre Coper curled an effort wide from substitute Ryan Colclough’s left wing cross with five minutes left on the clock, as the home side looked to take the game to extra-time.
But it was all over for the reds when with four minutes left Josh Brownhill made it three for North End. The ball came in from the right by Chris Humphrey and Greg Cunningham – again pushing forward – went up for a header, but the ball fell to Brownhill on the edge of the box who volleyed left footed into the bottom left hand corner of Garratt’s goal.
Crewe Alexandra line-up: Garratt, Turton, Guthrie, Ray, Nugent, Haber (Colclough, 63), Inman (Cooper, 63), Dalla Valle, Fox (c), King, Bingham. Subs not used: Richards, Atkinson, Saunders, Baillie, Wintle.
PNE line-up: Pickford, Vermijl (Davies, 74), Cunningham, Wright (Humphrey, 53), Kilkenny, Keane, Woods, Browne, Brownhill, Huntington (c), Hugill (Garner, 81). Subs not used: James, Johnson, Reid, Welsh.
Attendance: 2,852 (681 away fans)
Referee: Mr S Duncan