Crawley Town 2 PNE 2
North End had to settle for a point after the home side came from 2-0 down to take a point with an injury-time equaliser at the Broadfield Stadium.
The Lilywhites were 2-0 up inside the first 16 minutes; Paul Huntington heading home Scott Laird’s corner and Josh Brownhill exquisitely chipping the Crawley keeper to give them the advantage.
However, the home side got back into the game when centre half Joe Walsh fired home from 12 yards out following a free kick and in stoppage time Gary Alexander headed home a corner to level matters.
Manager Simon Grayson made just one change to the side that beat Wycombe in the Cup the previous week, Bailey Wright returning from suspension, replacing David Buchanan, who joined Iain Hume, Lee Holmes and Neil Kilkenny - all back from injury - on the bench.
And the side selected put on a confident and comfortable first half performance that gave them the half-time advantage.
They took the lead in the ninth minute. Stuart Beavon had won the first corner of the game after running onto Tom Clarke’s ball down the channel. Scott Laird took the right wing set piece delivering to the centre of the goal on the six yard line, where Paul Huntington headed home off the underside of the cross bar into the back of the net.
It was two in the 16th minute and it was a beautifully crafted goal. There was an excellent exchange of passes in the middle of the park, started by Josh Brownhill. It saw the youngster play the ball into Stuart Beavon, who in turn found skipper John Welsh. He then threaded a through ball splitting open the Crawley defence which Brownhill, who had continued his run, rushed onto and delicately chipped the ball over the advancing Paul Jones to double the North End advantage.
And it could have been even more before the break. Tom Clarke headed wide from John Welsh’s left hand inswinging corner just two minutes after the second and then three minutes before the break some great play down the saw saw Beavon control the ball and then switch play to Scott Laird, whose run found him unmarked and able to advance to the left hand corner of the box. He had a chance to shoot at goal, but was an inch outside the post, catching the side netting and flying into the Red Devils’ fans behind the goal.
Brownhill looked to add to his tally early in the second half, a half volley from 25 yards after a cushioned ball off the chest of Kevin Davies, but Paul Jones got down to save at the second attempt.
The home side got themselves back into the game with 25 minutes to go when a free kick from the right was delivered into Kyle McFadzean. He headed against the top left hand corner of the cross bar, but it eventually found its way out to Joe Walsh who fired through a crowd of players into the centre of the goal from the penalty spot.
And John Gregory’s men thought they had levelled it on 73 minutes, when experienced striker Gary Alexander poked home Emile Sinclair’s saved effort, that Declan Rudd had done well to palm out, but the linesman adjudged the front man to be offside.
Joe Walsh almost levelled it with three minutes left, hitting the outside of the post from another Nicky Adams free kick from the right, just like the home side’s first.
Four minutes were added on for stoppages by the official and in the first of those the home side did get their second to pinch a point.
Alexander rose highest from a corner in the six yard box to head home.
North End went in search of a winner, that would have given them six straight away wins, and substitute Lee Holmes flashed a shot just wide of the left hand post with two minutes left, but North End had to settle for a point, the first time they have ever done so against Crawley.
: P Jones, Hurst (Drury, 24), Sadler, Connolly, McFadzean, Clarke, Alexander, Walsh, Bulman, Adams, Sinclair (Proctor, 76). Subs not used: Torres, Jones, Smith, Malins, Maddison.Crawley Town line-up
: Rudd, Humphrey (Holmes, 80), Laird, Clarke, Huntington, Wright; Keane, Brownhill (Hayhurst, 72), Welsh, K Davies, Beavon (Hume, 72). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Byrom, Buchanan, Kilkenny.PNE line-up
: 3,407 (368 away fans)Attendance
: Mr C BrakespearReferee