PNE 1 Crawley Town 2
A brace from Gary Alexander in the opening 15 minutes of the second half was enough to give Crawley the victory depsite a Paul Huntington goal giving North End fans hope of a late comeback.
The visitors' skipper scored two in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, whilst Huntington grabbed his first goal for the Club in the 90th minute prompting some late pressure, but Richie Barker's side held on to win on their first visit to Deepdale.
Manager Graham Westley made one change to the side that was victorious at Bury, with Keith Keane missing out through injury, David Buchanan coming into the side at left back, Bailey Wright switching to the right hand side.
The first half was a stop start affair with the centre of attention not the 22 players out on the pitch but the refereeing of David Webb, who eventually left the field at half-time to the loudest noise of the afternoon, a chorus of boos and jeers for some strange decisions during the first period.
The half has started by with North End on the offensive, a deep corner from Scott Laird headed back into the danger area by Bailey Wright and then from David Buchanan’s cross from the left, Stuart Beavon nipped in at the front post to be first to it, lifting the ball over Paul Jones but just wide of the right hand upright.
Buchanan himself then tested the Crawley keeper from 12 yards out before Beavon latched onto Akpo Sodje’s flick, but the frontman couldn’t get enough power to test the visiting keeper.
The second half of the first period saw the visitors come into the game, with Nicky Adams flashing a 25 yard strike past the left hand post of Thorsten Stuckmann and then Bailey Wright was required clear after Nicky Ajose appeared to have an open goal until the Aussie right back cleared from under the former Peterborough man’s nose.
The opposition then fired a well-worked free kick over the bar through Mark Connolly after John Welsh was adjudged to have fouled on the edge of the box, but this was the start of a ten minute spell where the referee was the man in the action most, the Lilywhites not able to get any fluency as he appeared to stop the play almost every few seconds.
At the interval the manager chose to introduce Joel Byrom into the action, Buchanan the man to make way, with Scott Laird moving back into the full back slot.
However, the visitors took the lead nine minutes into the second half as Nicky Adams delivered a deep cross from the left to the back post to where Gary Alexander climbed highest to head into the bottom right hand corner past the outstretched dive of Thorsten Stuckmann.
And the same man, the Crawley skipper, made it two just four minutes later as he escaped 25 yards out and used the outside of his right boot to curl a shot from the edge of the box into the bottom left hand corner.
North End went 4-2-4 as they looked to get back in the game with attacking changes to support the efforts, David Amoo and Will Hayhurst introduced for Wright and Monakana, however, clear cut chances were hard to come by despite the effort.
The ridiculousness of the first half was returned to with minutes left though, as a two-footed challenge off the floor on John Welsh - a red card in any other game - saw nothing but a free kick.
However, from that Scott Laird free kick, delivered deep to the back post Paul Huntington ghosted in to slam home for his first goal for the Club just two days before his 25th birthday.
The goal gave North End hope, especially as whilst the team rushed back to the centre circle the fourth official was signalling five added minutes were to be added to the play.
The added time, when it was allowed to be played - with the opposition doing everything possible to run the clock down by fair means or foul - saw North End push hard for the equaliser. David Amoo slammed across a ball from the right hand side and Nicky Wroe found some space 12 yards out to head powerfully goalwards, but Paul Jones managed to tip the ball over for a corner.
Thorsten Stuckmann came forward for the crossing opportunity and with his threat he won another corner, but the referee blew for an infringement on the goalkeeper and as North End looked to mount another final attack the referee blew the whistle before even playing the full five minutes, which summed up the afternoon's frustrations for North End.