The Lilywhites marched into the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup with a superb display against Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers.
Two goals apiece for Josh Harrop and Alan Browne and a deflected strike from Daryl Horgan gave them a 5-1 win at Adams Park.
The rout began before 90 seconds has passed, Harrop curling a free kick into the top right hand corner from 25 yards and Browne double the lead late in the first half with a stunning left foot volley from distance.
The hosts took hope from a deflected effort just before the interval, but a similarly diverted strike from Horgan quashed any thoughts of a Chairboys come back straight after half-time.
Browne smashed home the yellows’ first penalty since the opening game of the season, after a foul on Paul Huntington and a sublime late header by Harrop from Greg Cunningham’s perfectly delivered left-wing cross put the icing on the cake in the closing stages.
Manager Alex Neil had made six changes to the side that lost its first game in ten on New Year’s Day, with Billy Bodin coming in for his debut, John Welsh making his first appearance since the beginning of November and Declan Rudd coming into the side for his first start since joining the club on a permanent basis in the summer.
Welsh and Rudd were two of the four survivors in the squad who were part of the side that beat the Buckinghamshire outfit back in December 2013, Clarke and Huntington the other two, but whilst that game took a Kevin Davies wonder goal to settle it, this was a much more one-sided affair, with some equally as impressive strikes.
It began from the off, Horgan racing at the heart of the home defence before being upended 25 yards from goal in a right hand channel just 30 seconds into the game. Bodin and Harrop stood over it, but it was the latter who stepped up and curled a beautiful free kick over the wall and into the top right hand corner, giving goalkeeper Scott Brown no chance.
The first half saw wave after wave of attack from the visitors with the goalscorer pulling the strings in between the midfield and the attack and after collecting from Robinson, he forced the keeper into a low save, before almost doubling his and PNE’s lead with some great skill cutting in from the left; Dan Scarr making a superb block to deny his 20 yard pile-driver making it 2-0 on 20 minutes.
The keeper, who rightly collected the Wycombe man of the match at the end of the game, prevented it being an even heavier scorline, denying Robinson but he could do nothing about the stunning second.
Horgan was again involved, with another great driving run down the left hand side, his cross being cleared from inside the six yard box, but only as far as fellow Irishman Browne on the edge of the ‘D’, who sweetly volleyed the clearance with his left foot back into the top left hand corner of the goal.
The Irish contingent in the team were again involved when Cunningham forced another save from ’keeper with a shot from the left after more good build-up play involving Harrop, Robinson and latterly Horgan.
Declan Rudd had been a mere spectator for the majority of the first half, but was called into action a minute before the break, pushing away Nick Freeman’s low 22-yard shot to the left and away, however from the subsequent attack the lead was halved.
Luke O’Nien collected a ball played down the right hand side of the penalty area, putting over a cross that took a deflection off Horgan, looping up and over Rudd and into the goal, the North End No.1 having no chance
This could have made it difficult for Neil’s men, with the home side boosted by scoring with their first real attack, but any hopes of a comeback were soon quelled after the break when another positive run down the left by Horgan – collecting an excellent ball by Bodin, saw the No.7 show a clean pair of heels to the full back and his cross came off substitute Will De Havilland deflecting it past Brown into the top right hand corner – it was almost a replica of the home side’s goal from the opposite side, both in front of the North End fans.
On the hour mark Robinson was inches away from a fourth after winning a 50/50 in the middle of the pitch and driving at the heart of the home defence, unleashing a shot from the edge of the ‘D’ that beat Brown, but flashed past the outside of the right goal post.
And the stopper makes a brilliant save to deny Horgan after a terrible back pass found the Irishman unmarked on the penalty spot, the keeper saving and De Havilland putting the ball behind for a corner, but the fourth wasn’t far away.
Huntington was fouled by Dan Scarr at the back post from Bodin’s corner, referee Peter Bankes points straight to the spot for a penalty, the team’s first since the opening day of the season. Browne was first to the ball, and smashed the effort from 12 yards into the top left hand corner, giving Scott Brown no chance.
And it became a five star display five minutes from time when Horgan sent Cunningham overlapping down the left hand side, and he reached 30 yards out before delivering a superb cross into the penalty area, where the ball was met by a powerful header from Harrop from 15 yards out, directing the ball past Brown and into the bottom left hand corner; which was no more than the team deserved for an excellent all round display.
Wycombe Wanderers line-up: Brown, Bean, Jacobson (Cowan-Hall, 79), Scarr, El-Abd (c), O’Nien, Bloomfield (Kashket, 71), Saunders (De Havilland, 46), Freeman, Tyson, Akinfenwa. Subs not used: Ma-Kalambay, Gape, Southwell, Mackail-Smith.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Woods (Boyle, 78), Cunningham, Welsh, Clarke (c), Huntington, Bodin (Johnson, 79), Browne, Robinson (Robinson, 85), Harrop, Horgan. Subs not used: Hudson, Vermijl, O’Connor, Barkhuizen.
Attendance: 4,928 (791 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr P Bankes