Preston North End recorded their third win on the spin this pre-season with victory over Southport in Merseyside.
Jordan Hugill, Andy Little, Will Keane; netting his first goal for North End, and Josh Brownhill did the damage as the Lilywhites cruised to victory over Conference side Southport.
Both Hugill and Little found the net with headers after good wing play by Calum Woods and Brownhill respectively, before Keane's effort was adjudged to have crossed the line despite the best efforts of the Southport defence.
In the final minute of the game Keane and Brownhill teamed up for the latter to find the net after kissing the bottom of the Southport post from long range.
Manager Simon Grayson rested the trio of Joe Garner, Jermaine Beckford and Paul Gallagher ahead of Friday’s trip north of the border, with Neil Kilkenny and Kyel Reid both returning to the starting XI after injury and recent illness had been overcome.
On a quaint summer evening at the Merseyrail Community Stadium, the game really struggled to get going in the early stages; an over hit Reid corner in the 14th minute looking for Bailey Wright the closest either side came to finding the target.
This really was pre-season football at its finest, both teams showing plenty of endeavour but with slack passes and stray balls aplenty as teammates continued to get reacquainted following the summer break.
North End had a half-hearted penalty appeal turned down in the 22nd minute when a Woods cross from the right was naively defended by the Sandgrounders.
The ever-tricky Reid picked up the loose ball on the left hand edge of the area and found the midriff-left arm area of Andrai Jones from close range, but the referee waved away the penalty protests.
Aussie midfielder Kilkenny was the first man to have an actual shot at goal during proceedings in the 23rd minute but he failed to find the target; shortly followed by Brownhill who scuffed his shot after a nice turn from just inside the area allowing Andy Coughlin to make an easy save.
The Lilywhites were beginning to stretch their legs, and if Hugill had made any kind of connection with Little’s low cross then PNE would surely have been in front; the ball then picked up by Brownhill whose tantalising, inviting cross evaded everyone.
The home fans had something to get excited about on the half hour mark when Jamie Allen let one rip from the laces which flashed not far wide of Jamie Jones’ right hand post.
The best piece of football in the opening 45 minutes conjured up a PNE goal in the 43rd minute and a delightful goal it was at that.
Alan Browne delayed his pass out wide to Woods long enough for the former Huddersfield Town man to create width on the flank before playing a clever one-two with Brownhill, and from the by-line, the PNE No.15 picked out Hugill who steered his header home from close range.
That should have been that for the half, but Southport had other plans; Allen picking out Jones in the area who saw his toe-poke turned over the bar with his namesake getting a strong hand up to deny him.
The half-time interval brought the first raft of changes for Grayson; Steven James, Clive Smith, Tom Clarke and Keane replacing Jones, Woods, Paul Huntington and Kilkenny.
But it was one of the game’s starters, Reid, who was the heaviest involved in the opening exchanges of the second half; skewing a shot wide of goal before picking out Little at the back post, but likewise he failed to force Coughlin into action.
Sandwiched between those two attacks, Jones fired over for the hosts.
And in the 57th minute North End made it two through Little; the Northern Irishman guiding Brownhill’s wicked cross from the right into the far corner of the net with a flick of his head.
On the hour mark Southport made nine changes as they tried to forage a way back into the match followed by another five PNE substitutes; John Welsh, Daniel Johnson, Jack Ryan, Nick Anderton and Josh Heaton replacing Bailey Wright, Ben Davies, Little, Reid and Hugill.
Brownhill should have netted Preston’s third in the 65th minute of the match after some good work by Keane who played him in down the left, but the youngster blazed over.
The two role-reversed just minutes later but Keane dragged his shot wide right of Coughlin’s post.
As the contest ticked into the final 20 minutes, Anderton was next up to test Coughlin, the ‘keeper holding the full back’s fiercely driven shot well down low to his left.
Southport sub Charlie Joyce almost brought the home side back into the match in the 77th minute with a well struck shot from distance; James equal to the test with a fine stop.
But it was all over in the 80th minute when Keane made it three for PNE.
Ryan picked out his strike partner who, after the ball initially appeared to be stuck between his legs, dug it out before firing through Coughlin, the defender on the line unable to keep his effort out.
In the final minute of the match, Brownhill made it four after finding the bottom corner from distance via the post to wrap up another good night at the office for Preston.
Southport line-up: Coughlin, Challoner, Beesley, Trialist 4, Foster (c), Allen, Wright, Trialist 9, Trialist 11, Almond, Jones.
Subs: Blakeman, Trialist 5, Brodie, Trialist 13, Joyce, McCarthy, Rutherford, Trialist 19, Trialist 20, Trialist 21, Trialist 22, Trialist 23.
Preston North End line-up: Jones (James 46), Woods (Smith 46), Huntington (Clarke 46), Wright (c) (Heaton 62), Davies (Anderton 62), Kilkenny (Keane 46), Browne, Brownhill, Little (Welsh 62), Reid (Johnson 62), Hugill (62).
Referee: Mr Peter Wright
Attendance: 967 (594 away)