Burton Albion 0 PNE 1
The captain clipped the ball home from a narrow angle after a deep ball into the box by Callum Robinson and the blues held on for what proved a comfortable win against Nigel Clough’s men.
There were four changes to the side that drew with Sheffield Wednesday in the final game of 2016, with Bailey Wright, Alan Browne, Eoin Doyle and Jordan Hugill into the side.
And it was Irishman Doyle who showed the first real bit of quality in the game ten minutes in and he burst down the right, past three Brewers defenders before putting a dangerous low ball into the box, only for former PNE skipper and Burton captain John Mousinho to get in an important block.
The first half was a bitty affair with neither side able to test their opponents’ goalkeepers until the first minute of stoppage time. Robinson attempted to put a ball into the penalty area, only to get is back just outside the left hand corner of the box. The No.37 then lifted the ball to the back right hand corner of the six yard box where Clarke had ghosted in and clipped the ball beyond Jon McLaughlin into the bottom left hand corner from the narrowest of angles.
The game continued to be a cagey affair in the second half until Daniel Johnson found Hugill, who had done well to create himself some space in a right hand channel, got to the edge of the box, but his shot was screwed just wide of the right hand upright from 18 yards.
McLaughlin was in fine form with 18 minutes left to deny Robinson when he collected a pass from Johnson and drilled goalwards, only for the stopper to tip the ball over for a corner with an acrobatic stop.
With nine minutes left Hugill had a real chance to close the game out as he headed Greg Cunningham’s excellent deep cross to the back post an inch wide of the right hand post after good build up play involving substitutes Paul Gallagher and Aiden McGeady.
Like on New Year’s Eve, four minutes of stoppage time was added, but there were to be no heroics from the home side as Simon Grayson’s men comfortably ran down the clock to take the win.
Burton Albion line-up: McLaughlin, Mousinho (c) (Choudhury, 79), McFadzean, O’Grady (Sordell, 46), Akins, Dyer, Ward (Harness, 69), McCory, Naylor, Palmer, Irvine. Subs not used: Bywater, Flanagan, Williamson, Barker.
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Clarke (c), Cunningham, Pearson, Wright, Huntington, Robinson (Gallagher, 79), Johnson, Doyle (McGeady, 78), Hugill (Makienok, 90), Browne. Subs not used: Lindegaard, Spurr, Pringle, Barkhuizen.
Attendance: 5,144 (1,698 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr O Langford