Stevenage 1 PNE 1
Jimmy Smith snatched a point for Stevenage in injury time, but North End extended their unbeaten run of 11 games at the Lamex Stadium.
The Lilywhites took the lead 16 minutes in, Tom Clarke firing in from the edge of the six yard box from Kevin Davies’ knock down, but Smith fired home in the first of five added minutes to take a point.
Manager Simon Grayson had made three changes to the side that won at Oldham the previous weekend, Kevin Davies, Bailey Wright and skipper John Welsh in for Craig Davies, Scott Wiseman and Neil Kilkenny, who all moved to the bench.
And it was a slow burner at the Lamex Stadium, however, the spark needed to awaken it came as the Lilywhites went ahead just after the quarter hour mark.
Joe Garner was felled by Stevenage’s big defender Bira Dembele, who was booked for the foul; Paul Gallagher took the resulting free kick from 50 yards out and found the returning Kevin Davies, whose header down was to Tom Clarke, who fired home from six yards out for his sixth goal of the season.
It wasn’t all North End as the goalscorer turned goal preventer at the other end on 25 minutes, the PNE No.5 clearing off the line after a Francois Zoko ball in came to Darius Charles, whose shot was controlled a yard off the line and played away by PNE.
Just after the half hour mark the Lilywhites has a strong shout for a handball in the box and thus a penalty after another Gallagher free kick from the left hand side seemed to be handled by Ashton, but experienced match official Andy D’Urso saw nothing.
With seven minutes to go in the first half Chris Humphrey collected the ball on the right and delivered a high deep cross to the back post, which was well brought down by top scorer Joe Garner 12 yards out, but the in-form frontman dragged his shot wide of left hand post.
On the stroke of half-time Kevin Davies had a snap shot on the edge of the box after another ball in from Chris Humphrey, who had collected Scott Laird’s raking cross-field ball from the left, to find the Jamaican.
The second half was another slow burner but 21 minutes into the half the yellows put together a great passing move as Keith Keane found Gallagher, who in turn played a one-two with Joe Garner, before the frontman side-stepped to unleash a vicious shot just inches past the right hand post from 20 yards out.
Two brilliant pieces of wing play by Chris Humphrey on the right hand side saw the ball flash across the face of goal on two occasions, but unfortunately without a PNE man on the end of either as the game reached the final 20 minutes.
With 11 minutes left on the clock North End twice had to clear the ball off the line, Scott Laird and then Jack King the men to deny first Luke Freeman who cut in from the left and shot and then Jimmy Smith from the right hand corner of the 18 yard box.
Five minutes of stoppage time was added on by Andy D’Urso and in the first the home side had an equaliser, but not without controversy. Joe Garner was again upended by Dembele, this time in the box - it was a clear penalty, but not given by the referee and within 60 seconds the home side were level.
A deep cross from the left by Luke Freeman was over all the PNE defenders, but at the back post it found Jimmy Smith, who fired back through the crowd and into the net.
Declan Rudd then made an outstanding save to deny Smith again whose 25 yard screamer was heading for the top left hand corner, tipping the ball strongly away from what would have been a stunning goal in the final seconds, but the game ended with both sides having to be satisfied with a point.
Stevenage line-up: Day, Dembele, Ashton, Charles, Akins, Zoko, Parrett (Doughty, 67), Freeman, Smith, Obeng, Deacon (Reid, 84). Subs not used: Arnold, Wedgbury, Burrow, Heslop, Hartley.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Humphrey (Wiseman, 82), Laird, Clarke, King, Wright, Keane, Welsh, Gallagher (Brownhill, 76), Garner, K Davies ( C Davies, 82). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Beavon, Buchanan, Kilkenny.
Attendance: 2,448 (402 away fans)
Referee: Mr A D’Urso