PNE 0 Sheffield United 0
A controversial decision not to award a first half penalty was costly as North End drew 0-0 with Sheffield United at Deepdale.
Blades skipper Michael Doyle clearly handled Bailey Wright’s driven shot just before the half hour mark, but referee Geoff Eltringham failed to award the spot kick and the visitors held out against constant PNE pressure to take a point.
Manager Simon Grayson made four changes to the side that drew with Stevenage six days earlier, Josh Brownhill and Neil Kilkenny selected in the middle of the park and David Buchanan starting at full back in a 4-4-2 formation.
And the side almost got off to a blistering start, forcing Mark Howard in the Blades goal to make two saves in the opening 15 seconds, firstly a snap shot from Craig Davies, which was only spilled to Joe Garner, but Howard recovered to smother at the feet of the 20-goal forward.
On 14 minutes a free kick from former Sheffield United loanee Paul Gallagher – given after Garner was fouled - was up and over the wall, but a foot over the left hand corner of the cross bar as well.
Twenty minutes in and Garner flashed header just wide from Humphrey’s cross after former PNE defender Neill Collins was out-muscled by Davies, who laid the ball out wide to Humphrey.
Just before the half-hour mark some great passing build up play by the Lilywhites ended with a wonderful block by Harry Maguire from yet another Garner effort from 15 yards out.
On 33 minutes Craig Davies saw a Davies shot deflected wide for the first corner of the game. Paul Gallagher swung the ball inwards from the left; the ball came out to skipper for the night – on his 100th career appearance - Bailey Wright and he fired in only for Michael Doyle to clearly handle the ball away. It should have been a penalty and a red card, with referee Geoff Eltringham in a good position, but nothing was given. The ball came back out to Gallagher, who fired low and hard, but it was brilliantly saved again by Howard.
Six minutes before the break, yet another save from the visitors’ No.1, this time from Josh Brownhill, who shot from the edge of box after a Neil Kilkenny lay off, but the game went into the break goalless.
Just before the break former PNE player of the year Matt Hill had come on for the inured Bob Harris, but he was back off, substituted himself at half-time, seemingly pulling a hamstring with his first run!
United had their best spell of the game at the start of the second half, having their first real spell of concerted possession and winning their first corner, only for Declan Rudd to claim with ease from Flynn’s cross.
But on 55 minutes some brilliant play by North End eventually saw Gallagher play in Josh Brownhill, whose half volley went into the ground, but crashed back off the post and away from goal.
Three minutes later and Joe Garner was an inch from the opener, getting across his defender and volleying Chris Humphrey’s low centre from the right, the ball beating Howard, but narrowly wide.
Into the final ten minutes and North End were pressurising the Blades backline, Garner and Brownhill both winning corners in close succession.
Stuart Beavon and Lee Holmes were added to the attacking options but it was Bailey Wright’s header across the goal that Paul Gallagher met, only to go back into the arms of Howard.
Injury time saw four minutes added, but North End couldn’t break down a stubborn Sheffield United and had to settle for a point.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Wiseman, Buchanan, Kilkenny, Clarke, Wright, Humphrey (Holmes, 78), Brownhill (K Davies, 85), Garner, C Davies (Beavon, 78), Gallagher. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Keane, K Davies, Welsh, King.
Sheffield United line-up: Howard, Harris (Hill, 41 (B Davies, 46)), Maguire, Flynn, Doyle, Baxter (Porter, 75), Collins, Coady, Scougall, Murphy, Freeman. Subs not used: Miller, McGinn, Paynter, Long.
Attendance: 8,892 (658 away fans)
Referee: Mr G Eltringham