PNE 1 Notts County 1
The visitors scored with seven minutes of the second half gone, Jake Cassidy firing low into the bottom right hand corner after a long throw from the right, but Garner fired in from the edge of the box in the closing stages to give the Lilywhites nothing more than they deserved having dominated the game almost from the off.
The game had a cagey first few minutes, after Magpies skipper Hayden Mullins had switched the teams round to see North End attacking the packed Town End in the first half.
The visitors looked to slow the game, applying spoiling tactics to stop the game as much as possible and be strong and physical when not in possession and they were helped by a referee who let a lot go; Joe Garner in particular taking a lot of punishment from Mullins.
Garner had been selected as the middle man of the front three, Little and Gallagher either side him, Kilkenny alongside youngsters Alan Browne and Josh Brownhill in the midfield and a back four of Woods, Clarke – who wore the captain’s armband – Wright and Ben Davies, who got the nod from manager Simon Grayson at left back.
After the game finally got going it was the Lilywhites who dominated the chances and possession – over 70 per cent of the ball before the interval. The first chance came on 11 minutes, as the first PNE corner was won by some slick passing from midfield. Gallagher’s corner from right in front of the Town End, brought a second, from which a Browne header was flicked over the bar by the visitors’ experienced new signing, keeper Roy Carroll.
On 16 minutes a straight ball from competitive debutant Jamie Jones saw Joe Garner flick on for and Andy Little in a right hand channel and his effort beat Carroll with a half volley, but it flashed an inch wide of the left hand post.
At the mid-point of the half Calum Woods overlapped down the right flank and delivered a deep cross which Paul Gallagher got up to meet with his head only for Carroll to again deny him with a brilliant save. The ball was thrown in to Josh Brownhill on the left and he drove in and had a goalbound shot, but it was saved again by Carroll.
The first and only on target effort of the visitors in the first half saw a brilliant point blank save from Jones to deny Ronan Murray from Notts County’s first corner; then from the rebound Hollis fired over from five yards out.
With nine minutes left in the half after an enforced change from County – Dawson replacing Garry Thompson on the left, Josh Brownhill lasered in a shot that was arrowed towards the top right hand corner, only to see it deflected wide for a corner, from which Gallagher crossed and Alan Browne headed against the bar, back down and away from the feet of Garner.
Into the final minute of the half former North End midfielder Nicky Wroe latched onto a short ball backwards and ran through past the North End defence, but fired wide of the right hand post.
The four minutes of stoppage time, cause by the many stoppages County had during the opening 45 minutes, saw North End camped in the Town End penalty area. Firstly a long ball from Calum Woods was competed for in the air by Garner. The forward came down with it and fired low at goal, but Carroll was right behind it, and grabbed the rebound before the No.14 could respond.
North End then had the ball in the net as Andy Little fired home from Brownhill’s pull back, but the ball was just over the goal line before the cross. The last touch of the half saw North End again in the County box with a Little header across goal but it was headed behind as David Webb’s whistle went.
However, despite their first half dominace North End fell behind on 52 minutes. A long throw into the box by Mustapha Dumbuya wasn’t cleared and it fell to Jake Cassidy, the Wolves loan man, who fired hard and low past Jamie Jones into the bottom right hand corner from 12 yards out.
North End looked for an immediate response with Joe Garner trying an effort from 50 yards just before the hour mark, that had Carroll scrambling and putting the ball behind for a corner.
Chris Humphrey replaced Kilkenny in the 62nd minute as North End moved from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 with Little joining Garner up front.
Another Josh Brownhill free kick from around 40 yards tested the former Manchester United keeper just three minutes later, after Garner had yet again been upended by Hollis when challenging for a header, but the stopper was equal to the effort, pushing it away from the goal.
Alan Browne then arrowed a drive that was inches over the top left hand corner, with the game seeing North End continue to dominate the opportunities being created, despite the deficit.
A double change with 13 minutes left saw Will Hayhurst and Kevin davies add to North End’s attacking options, replacing Gallagher and Little.
A recovery tackle by Alan Browne prevented Ronan Murray from testing Jamie Jones from the left hand corner of the box with eight minutes left.
But it was Joe Garner who levelled matters in the penultimate minute. Will Hayhurst did brilliantly on the left to pick up the ball and play it inside to Alan Browne, he in turn laid it off to Garner who fired in from 18 yards into the top left hand corner to give North End an opening day point.
PNE line-up: Jones, Woods, B Davies, Kilkenny (Humphrey, 62), Clarke (c), Wright, Little (K Davies, 77), Browne, Garner, Brownhill, Gallagher (Hayhurst, 77). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Wiseman, Welsh, King.
Notts County line-up: Carroll, Dumbuya, Adams, Mullins (c), Hollis, Jones, Wroe, Smith, Cassidy, Murray, Thompson (Dawson, 36). Subs not used: Spiess, McKenzie, Thompson, Cassidy, Jones.
Attendance: 12,857 (764 away fans)
Referee: Mr D Webb