Preston North End and Stoke City shared the points at Deepdale in a pulsating encounter where a Paul Gallagher penalty and a first league goal from Graham Burke had given the Lilywhites the lead twice, only for Erik Pieters and substitute Peter Crouch to level matters for the Potters.
Gallagher opened the scoring from the spot five minutes before half-time, an unstoppable shot into the top right hand corner, after Tom Edwards was penalised for handball, but the Potters were level 90 seconds later, with a left-footed half volley from full back Pieters. However, the third of three goals in the last five minutes of the half, on the volley from Burke, sent North End ahead at the interval.
The game swung back to forth and the Gary Rowett’s side drew level for a second time 16 minutes into the second half, when substitute Crouch headed home Joe Allen’s free kick from the left and it remained that way, despite the best efforts of both sides to find a winner.
The first half was a wonderful advert for Championship football, played at a high tempo, with both teams looking to attack at every opportunity and it was almost a perfect start for Lukas Nmecha on his first start at Deepdale, reaching a left-wing cross from Callum Robinson, but his header was saved by England stopper Jack Butland low to his right-hand side.
Declan Rudd was also at his best, denying Saido Berahino at point-blank range, after the striker got a header onto James McClean’s left-wing cross into the near post area.
A quarter of an hour still hadn’t past as the chances continued to flow. On 13 minutes, Ben Davies switched play 60 yards to Burke who broke down the right, cut back onto his left delivering deep for Robinson to head across goal well, but inches wide of the right-hand post,
At the opening period’s mid-way point Alan Browne was denied twice by the excellence of Butland, firstly a from a header, then a volley after Robinson’s cross from the left, a fine double save from the Potters’ No.1.
But with six minutes to go before the break referee Andy Madley was in no doubt of the need to point to the spot when a cross came in from Burke, was flicked on by Robinson and hit the outstretched arm of Stoke right back Tom Edwards.
Gallagher, with his usual routine, faced away from goal, spun and powered a vicious shot into the top right-hand corner of the goal – two goalkeepers would not have stopped the effort.
The lead though lasted less than two minutes, Tom Ince laid the ball back on the right for former Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher to cross, which was flicked on by Berahino and Pieters smashed a left-footed effort on the half volley back across goal into the top right-hand corner of the net.
North End might have thought their chance to go in ahead at the break was over, but in the fifth minute of first half stoppage time a Gallagher free kick from the right was headed up in the air by Davies, falling to Robinson, who fired from 12 yards a miss hit shot that looped perfectly for Burke, who timed his volley brilliantly into the top left-hand corner of the goal.
But a minute after the hour mark Stoke substitute Crouch levelled matters with his first touch of the game. A foul was awarded on the left and Welsh international Allen crossed and Crouch rose highest in the penalty area to see the ball come of the back of his neck into the top left-hand corner from ten yards out.
The Lilywhites made a double change mid-way through the second half and Tom Barkhuizen and Louis Moult combined to help create an opening for Gallagher with 17 minutes to go, the No.12 dragging a low driven shot from 25 yards just past the left hand upright.
Into the final few minutes PNE pressed for a winner, Andrew Hughes going close with a close range header, as Clarke headed Robinson’s corner across the six yard box, but the No.16 was unable to keep the ball down.
Five minutes of time was added onto the end and another substitute Ryan Ledson drove a shot across goal in the closing seconds and there was a huge shout for a second penalty for what looked like a clear foul by Pieters on Barkhuizen, that anywhere else on the pitch would definitely have been a foul, but the two sides had to settle for a point in an entertaining encounter.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Fisher, Hughes, Pearson, Clarke (c), Davies, Burke (Barkhuizen, 67), Gallagher (Ledson, 84), Nmecha (Moult, 66), Browne, Robinson. Subs not used: Maxwell, Harrop, Barker, Huntington.
Stoke City line-up: Butland, Pieters, Allen, Williams, Ince, Afobe (Etebo, 84), McClean (Diouf, 59), Shawcross (c), Berahino (Crouch, 59), Fletcher, Edwards. Subs not used: Federici, Bauer, Bojan, Souttar.
Attendance: 13,996 (3,076 Stoke City fans)
Referee: Mr A Madley