A piece of magic from North End’s Cumbrian Cannavaro helped make it seven unbeaten going into Christmas.
However, the Lilywhites were frustrated by Nottingham Forest, who had taken the lead against the run of play through Ben Brereton just before the hour mark, leaving Paul Huntington to level matters in a 1-1 draw at Deepdale.
Alex Neil’s side had dominated much of the game and would have been frustrated not to have been well ahead before the visitors’ opening goal, but they once again showed great character to battle back and were the only side who looked likely to win it in the closing stages.
They started extremely brightly; Alan Browne picking up a half cleared Paul Gallagher free kick, just six minutes in. The Irishman took a touch, drove goalwards, but Jordan Smith got down to smother at his feet and push the ball over the bar for a corner.
On 18 minutes there was a change of referee needed, match official Scott Duncan suffered a calf injury, with Matthew Donohue – himself only appointed late as fourth official – took over duties with the whistle.
The home side were playing some great football in those opening stages and midway through the opening period Callum Robinson fed Gallagher, who clipped the ball into the box, finding Jordan Hugill, who headed downwards, forcing Smith to dive down to his right to push the ball away.
Tom Barkhuizen’s pace was causing problems and after he was brought down by Welshman David Vaughan – the ex-Blackpool man getting a yellow card for his trouble, Gallagher delivered the free kick into a perfect area around the penalty spot. Huntington rose highest, but powered his header just over the cross bar.
Right on half-time, another ball into Hugill by Gallagher, was laid off by the No.9 to Robinson, 22 yards out, who got away a low shot, only to see it tipped around the right hand post by Smith.
After the break it was again all PNE attacking, so it was very much against the run of play when on 58 minutes, that Mark Warburton’s side took the lead. Brereton had picked up the ball just outside the edge of his area, before playing the ball into Everton loanee Kieran Dowell. He went forward, feeding Liam Bridcutt, who turned it left back to where Brereton had run onto and he coolly slotted under Maxwell into the middle of the goal from 15 yards out.
The Reds had looked to sit in and play on the break all game and they continued to invite North End onto them.
Yet another brilliant free kick from the left by Gallagher was headed narrowly wide by Huntington with Smith beaten on 69 minutes, but the goal came 15 minutes before the end.
Another corner from Gallagher caused chaos in the box, with the ball eventually finding its way out to Hunts on the edge of the ‘D’, who collected the bouncing ball, dragged it across his man and fired a hard low left footed strike back across Smith into the bottom right hand corner of the Town End goal.
After the equaliser the visitors looked drained and dropped deeper and deeper, playing on the counter attack. Substitutes Josh Harrop and Daryl Horgan were busy, with Ben Pearson marshalling any breakaways with his usual style. A number of free kicks and crossing opportunities came and went for PNE and in the end it finished as Forest’s first draw since their last visit to Deepdale back on 1st April!
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Clarke (c), O’Connor, Pearson, Huntington, Davies, Barkhuizen, Gallagher, Hugill, Browne (Harrop, 62), Robinson (Horgan, 59). Subs not used: Rudd, Boyle, Johnson, Welsh, Mavididi.
Nottingham Forest line-up: Smith, Lichaj, Mancienne (c), Bridcutt, Murphy, Brereton (Ward, 62), Carayol (Cash, 63), Dowell, Vaughan (Bouchalakis, 84), Worrall. Subs not used: Henderson, Traore, McKay, Clough.
Attendance: 13,481 (1,210 Nottingham Forest fans)
Referee: Mr S Duncan