Sean Maguire grabbed his first competitive goal in PNE colours, but the Lilywhites had to settle for a point against a battling Barnsley side at Deepdale.
Alex Neil, managing against his former club, saw his side take a deserved lead when his Irish frontman glanced home Tom Barkhuizen’s pin point cross from the left, but Brad Potts’ ricocheted effort levelled matters up.
Both goals came before the interval, but it was PNE who had the chances to win it after half-time; skipper Paul Huntington’s header from Paul Gallagher’s corner coming off the face of Stephy Mavididi and in the final action of the game Reds ’keeper Adam Davies made a reflex save to deny Maguire a second and what would have been a deserved winner for the home side.
Mavididi, given his first start in a lilywhite shirt and Gallagher – making his 500th competitive professional appearance – were two of three changes to the side, the other seeing Tommy Spurr return at the heart of the defence alongside Huntington.
But it was at the other end of the pitch that much of the play in the opening 25 minutes took place. Maguire looked lively from the off, in front of Irish assistant boss Roy Keane, and he showed a clean pair of heels to three Tykes defenders down the left on eight minutes, eventually drawing the ball back from the byline, by the edge of the box, to find strike partner Jordan Hugill, whose snap shot beat a diving Davies, but was an inch wide of the left hand upright.
But the pressure continued and the opening goal came mid-way through the first half. Huntington played a long ball from the right central defensive position and Barkhuizen rose to nod the ball down to Maguire. The No.24 fed it back to the winger down the left, who showed his blistering pace to ease comfortably past Jason McCarthy, at right back, before clipping a delightful ball to around the penalty spot where Maguire rose above Liam Lindsay and glanced a powerful header into the bottom right hand corner of the goal.
However, the lead lasted only two minutes as Adam Hammill collected a free kick played down the right touchline and cut inside before sliding a pacy cross into the six yard box. The ball was miss-hit by Brad Potts, but Darnell Fisher’s clearance came back off the former Blackpool man and into the back of the net.
The game was quite open in the 15 minutes either side of half-time, but it was the home side, urged on by the active North End support, that had the better of the chances.
But, player of the month nominee Darnell Fisher, was needed to make a clearance off the line from Ike Ugbo just after half-time when the visitors had counter-attacked down the right and Ryan Hedges cross had again been miss-hit by Potts into the path of the loanee striker, who seemed unmarked five yards out, only for the PNE right back to be in the right place once again to calmly clear.
Up the other end and a quality delivery from a Gallagher corner – won by the positive running and power of Hugill – found Huntington 12 yards out. His bullet header was on target, but unfortunately it hit team-mate Mavididi in the face and was cleared away.
Josh Harrop, Callum Robinson and John Welsh, making his first return to competitive football since October 14th 2016, were brought on by the manager, trying to get the winner and he was almost rewarded in the dying seconds.
The visitors had spent most of the second half trying to waste time and it was surprising that match official Peter Bankes had only included four minutes of added on time at the end, but it was almost enough as in the final 30 seconds Spurr put one of his huge throws deep into the penalty area from by the left hand corner flag; the ball was partially headed away, but only to Maguire at the back post, who met the ball to volley goalwards but Davies at full stretch palmed the ball over the bar and the two sides had to settle for a point apiece.
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Fisher, Earl, Browne, Huntington (c), Spurr, Mavididi (Robinson, 78), Gallagher (Welsh, 70), Hugill, Maguire, Barkhuizen (Harrop, 70). Subs not used: Hudson, Vermjl, Horgan, B Davies.
Barnsley line-up: A Davies (c), McCarthy, Williams, Lindsay, Hammill (Bradhsaw, 82), Jackson, Ugbi, Potts, Gardner (Moncur 67), Pearson, Hedges (Barnes, 71). Subs not used: Townsend, Pinnock, Thiam, Bird.
Referee: Mr P Bankes