A stunning goal from the half-way line by Alan Browne put the icing on the cake of a superb performance, as North End brushed aside table-toppers Cardiff City at Deepdale.
Josh Harrop had scored his first goal for the club to open the scoring just before half-time, before Sean Maguire made it two in as many games with a fantastic finish, but it was Browne who took the plaudits with a brilliant driven effort from 45 yards to cap off the night of and 3-0 win.
Harrop was one of three changes to the side that had faced Barnsley the previous Saturday, John Welsh returning to the starting XI for the first time since October last year and Ben Davies coming back into the centre half pairing alongside skipper Ben Davies.
The changes fit straight into the formation, with Welsh marshalling the area in front of the back four and Harrop playing in the No.10 role, but it was the man who had occupied that position on the Saturday, Sean Maguire, who created the first chance, collecting Darnell Fisher’s throw in from the right, driving inside and firing a left footed effort low towards the bottom left hand corner, Neil Etheridge seemingly seeing it late, getting down just in time to palm the ball away.
Maguire and Hugill’s blossoming partnership in attack continued to look better and better and ten minutes in they linked up well, with the Irishman sending his strike partner down the left hand edge of the box. The No.9 got in a shot that Etheridge palmed away and Joe Bennett managed to get in an excellent challenge to deny Maguire on the follow up.
The chances continued and a Hugill won corner was crossed by Harrop to the back post where a bullet header from Davies beat everyone, but also the right hand post by a matter of inches.
But the opener came seven minutes before the break. Hugill was fouled by Sol Bamba, 25 yards out, and Harrop lined up the free kick before firing hard and low past the wall and into the bottom right hand corner of the goal – his first goal in PNE colours.
The pace of the North End front four was giving the Bluebirds plenty to think about and Harrop combined with the lightning speed of Barkhuizen gave another great opportunity for the Lilywhites; the latter crossing from the left for Maguire to glance a header on target, that the visitors’ ’keeper saved at the third attempt.
The second half saw the home side on the front foot again and Darnell Fisher had a great chance to add a second. Again the pace and pressure of the North End frontline created the chance as Maguire collected the ball and fed the right back in the right hand corner of the box; the No.14 put two defenders on the floor with a turn, but his left footed effort was straight at Etheridge, who eventually gathered a spinning wet ball.
It was a game that kept the crowd out of their seat at all times and Hugill and Barkhuizen almost brought a second just after the hour mark. The two raced at the heart of the Cardiff defence, with the No.29 getting on the end of the cross from his fellow forward at the back post, but heading it just the wrong side of the right hand upright.
But the second did come and in some style too on 71 minutes. Barkhuizen again pressed and forced a mistake from Bamba before rushing towards the box and squaring the ball for Maguire, who danced past two defenders before smashing the ball into the back of the Alan Kelly Town End net.
And the third… well where do we start! There were 12 minutes to go and Etheridge miss-hit a clearance under pressure and it fell to Alan Brown just five yards inside the Cardiff half and drilled the ball back first time straight back right at the goal and Etheridge flapped at it, but could only see it end up in the net – what a goal!
The goalkeeper made up for the error with two fine saves into the last ten minutes, denying Hugill and then a Harrop free kick that looked destined for the top right hand corner.
Calum Woods also returned to action for the final ten minutes, after over a year on the sidelines, to a fantastic roar from the home fans, welcoming the scouser back, replacing Fisher at right back.
But the biggest roar was reserved for the final whistle as the whole team received a standing ovation for a superb team performance, that got the result it efforts deserved.
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Fisher (Woods, 81), Earl, Welsh, Huntington, Davies, Barkhuizen, Browne (Gallagher, 87), Hugill, Harrop, Maguire (Horgan, 88). Subs not used: Hudson, Spurr, Mavididi, Robinson.
Cardiff City line-up: Etheridge, Peltier, Bennett, Morrison (c), Ralls, Zohore, Bamba, Gunnarsson, Mendez-Laing, Damour (Tomlin, 63), Hoilett (Feeney, 63). Subs not used: Murphy, Ecuele Manga, Richards, Ward, Bryson.
Attendance: 10,796 (363 Cardiff City fans)
Referee: Mr O Langford
Updated at (UK)
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