Brighton & Hove Albion 0 PNE 0
A hard-earned point from the Lilywhites came as they recorded their third consecutive clean sheet to take a 0-0 draw from the early pace-setters on their first visit to the AMEX Community Stadium.
It was an unchanged North End that started the game, manager Simon Grayson selecting the same starting XI that had won at Charlton in midweek – Joe Garner and Chris Kirkland returning to the bench following suspension and injury respectively.
The table-topping home side started brightly with Tomer Hemed firing over bar from the edge of the box after a back heel from strike-partner Sam Baldock.
But a real controversial moment came just eight minutes in when North End had a huge shout for a penalty as Jordan Hugill was hauled down by Lewis Dunk, after he had got the wrong side of his man, replay showing it was a stonewall penalty and perhaps a red card for being last man.
The yellows were unperturbed by the decision by official Andy Davies and continued to push, a corner from Paul Gallagher brilliantly flicked goalwards with a header by Eoin Doyle, the effort palmed away by David Stockdale in the Albion goal.
The seagulls best moments came from summer recruit from Sheffield United, Scot Jamie Murphy, who was returning from a three match ban, like Garner. Firstly Murphy took a free kick with Rosenior, after the latter had been fouled, the Scot shot low towards the bottom right, but Joirdan Pickford made a fine save.
Then another Murphy free kick from the left hand touchline almost went straight in only for Pickford to get a strong hand and flick the ball over the bar after seeing it very late.
Ten minutes before the interval and Stockdale made a mistake with a ball out, Gallagher picked it up midway inside the Seagulls’ half and laid it into Browne, who in turn passed it left into the box for Hugill who shot low, but Stockdale saved.
After the interval the visitors again started brightly; Gallagher shooting with the outside of his right boot after an Adam Reach run and pass, the effort just wide of the right hand upright.
Cunningham also went close with a header from Gallagher’s left wing cross, flicking the ball just past the right hand post from the whipped inswinging ball by his skipper.
Joe Garner came on with 24 minutes of go and almost had an immediate impact, home captain Bruno Saltor heading off the line from the North End No.14 after Gallagher’s left wing cross.
Alan Browne tested Stockdale with eight minutes to go after another positive run down the left by Adam Reach, with both sides going for the win and not happy to settle for a point.
Eight minutes of stoppage time was added on due to a long injury to Gaetan Bong, meaning the home side would play that time with ten men.
With the table-toppers down to ten men, substitute Paul Huntington was put upfront for the injury time, but it was Joe Garner who went closest, volleying Gallagher’s corner over the bar from 12 yards out after the No.12 had won the chance to cross with a deflected shot of his own.
However, despite the late pressure they had to settle for a point and their third consecutive clean sheet.
: Stockdale, Saltor (c), Huenemeier, Dunk, Crofts, Baldock, Hemed (Zamora, 63), Bong, Murphy (Holla, 79), Rosenior (March, 66), Ince. Subs not used: Maenpaa, Calderon, Goldson, Manu.Brighton & Hove Albion line-up
PNE line-up: Pickford, Vermijl (Huntington, 86), Reach, Woods, Wright, Cunningham, Johnson, Gallagher (c), Browne, Doyle (Garner, 66), Hugill. Subs not used: Kirkland, Kilkenny, Keane, Welsh, Huntington, May.
Attendance: 24,629 (949 away fans)
: Mr A DaviesReferee