A clinical Preston North End performance put Lancashire rivals Fleetwood Town to the sword at Highbury.
Goals from Paul Huntington, Tom Barkhuizen, a Daniel Johnson penalty, Daryl Horgan and an own goal from Lewie Coyle gave the Lilywhites a 5-1 victory against the Cod Army, despite going behind to a Cian Bolger header.
Centre half Bolger had headed home George Glendon’s corner against the run of play, on 16 minutes, but Huntington too met a corner, from Callum Robinson, on the stroke of half-time to glance home an equaliser.
And after the break the Lilywhites were rampant. Barkhuizen put them in front, collecting Robinson’s through ball before rounding the ’keeper and slotting home, before Daniel Johnson made it three after Sean Maguire was upended by Nathan Pond.
Substitute Daryl Horgan scored an excellent left-footed curling effort from outside of the area to make it four, before Josh Harrop forced Coyle to poke the ball home in the closing stages, to cap off the pre-season preparations.
Manager Alex Neil had thrown Darnell Fisher straight into the starting XI at right back, whilst Maguire was given his first start in a lilywhite shirt and the Irishman once again impressed, leading the line extremely well.
And it was the former Cork City man who almost opened the scoring eight minutes in. Tommy Spurr switched the play from left to Tom Barkhuizen on the right and he played the ball into the No.24 inside the box, he controlled superbly, turned his man and fired past Alex Cairns in the home side’s goal, but the ball came back off the inside of the right hand post and away.
After watching their opponents dominate the ball for the opening quarter of an hour, the hosts finally came alive and took a lead against the run of play. A free kick was given almost 30 yards out and Bobby Grant forced Mathew Hudson, in the PNE goal in the absence of both Chris Maxwell and Declan Rudd, to make a good save, tipping the ball over for a corner.
From that resulting corner Glendon curled the ball to around the penalty spot and Bolger rose above the North End defence and powered a header into the top right hand corner of the goal, giving Hudson no chance.
The young North End ’keeper was heavily involved in the game after the goal, as the home side had a good five minute spell. Firstly he did very well to narrow the angle on Jordy Hiwula, to force the forward to loft the ball wide and then the custodian denied the same man with a superb one-on-one save after a sloppy back pass had put Town’s No.7 clean through on goal.
Once this little spell was over, North End began to dominate once again and the chances began to flow. Callum Robinson curled a right-footed effort inches wide of the right hand post after two Fleetwood defenders had managed to collide with each other to present the PNE man with the ball.
On the half hour mark Uwe Rosler was lucky to see his side still have the full compliment of players. Maguire left Preston-born Nathan Pond scrambling and Alex Cairns came out and smeared the PNE striker down, after the ball had been pushed past him. Somehow, referee Michael Salisbury, didn’t see it like that, when the replays clearly showed it should have been a red card for the stopper.
But on the stroke of half-time the Lilywhites were level when Callum Robinson delivered North End’s eighth corner of the half into the penalty area and Huntington glanced a header into the top right hand corner of the goal.
After the break it was one way traffic from the off. Alan Browne had the first chance with a stunning strike from the half way line. Goalkeeper Cairns seemed to watch it nonchalantly fly over him as if it was well wide, but it landed on the top of the cross bar and luckily for the Cod Army’s No.1, fell into his arms.
The No.21 in the Fleetwood goal, despite conceding four second half goals, had a fantastic half and had it not been for him, it could have been a lot more. He denied Maguire a second in as many games with a smart low save after great touch, strength and speed for the former Cork man had created an opening in a left hand channel.
But Barkhuizen put PNE in front on 54 minutes. PNE should have been awarded a penalty after Alan Browne was upended in the box by Eastham, but Robinson collected the loose ball and threaded a through ball for the pacy striker to run on to, before he rounded Cairns and slid the ball into the empty net.
The former Fleetwood man, almost grabbed his sixth goal of pre-season after another excellent pass from Robinson, but Cairns made a superb save to push away Barkhuizen’s first time shot.
Another very strong penalty shout came on 71 minutes when Darnell Fisher was denied a goal on his debut by an outstretched arm from Prestonian Ash Eastham, but within 30 seconds North End finally were awarded a penalty at the fourth attempt when Pond scythed down Maguire – whose pace was causing the experienced Town legend all kinds of problems.
Daniel Johnson stepped up to curl the ball right into the bottom left hand corner of the goal to make it 3-1 and the North End contingent, braving the torrential rain on the Fylde coast, didn’t have to wait long for the fourth.
Substitute Horgan added this one; he collected the ball on the right hand touchline, before driving in to the edge of the ‘D: and then curling a shot into the bottom left hand corner, out of Cairns’ reach.
The final goal came seven minutes from time. Another second half change, Harrop, showed quick feet to dance past two defenders in the box before pushing the ball towards Eoin Doyle, who had replaced Maguire, but a leg from Coyle took the ball away from the striker, but also diverted it past Cairns into the bottom right hand corner, to make it a scoreline that reflected the dominance of Alex Neil’s men.
With that, pre-season was over and the business of being prepared for the opening game of the season at home to Sheffield Wednesday, was well and truly underway with just eight days to go until the 2017/18 campaign gets underway.
Fleetwood Town line-up: Cairns, Coyle, Bell (Ekpolo, 80), Eastham, Pond (c) (Rodgers, 74), Hiwula, Dempsey (Schwabl, 83), McAleny (Cole, 76), Grant, Bolger, Glendon. Subs not used: Crellin, Nirennold, Burns, Hunter.
PNE line-up: Hudson, Fisher (Vermijl, 79), Cunningham (c) (O’Connor, 86), Pearson, Huntington, Spurr (Davies, 70), Barkhuizen (Horgan, 70), Browne (Harrop, 61), Maguire (Doyle, 79), Johnson, Robinson. Subs not used: Roberts, Boyle, Grimshaw, Pringle, Earl.
Referee: Michael Salisbury