Alex Neil’s team started pre-season with sharp-shooting display at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium, putting seven past Bamber Bridge in a lunchtime kick-off in the sun.
Graham Burke on debut, Billy Bodin and a 20-minute hat-trick from Sean Maguire gave the Lilywhites a 5-0 half-time lead, before further goals from Louis Moult and Josh Harrop – who also missed a penalty – made it an entertaining afternoon for the almost 2,000 who turned out for the annual Gerry Lawson Memorial Trophy.
There were two different starting XIs in each half utilised by the North End boss and the first team started brightly and were one up after only five minutes.
Burke, pulling on the green third shirt of PNE for the first time since his summer move from Shamrock Rovers, picked up the ball in a right hand channel and cut inside onto his left foot, easing past two defenders before drilling a shot low into the bottom left hand corner from 15 yards out in a central position.
The second of the game came on 13 minutes and Burke was again involved. This time he went down the left the penalty area and cut the ball across for Billy Bodin who moved the ball quickly out of his feet to the left before firing hard and low into the bottom right hand corner of the goal with his favoured left foot.
Maguire, whose movement throughout the opening 45 minutes looked very sharp and caused all sorts of problems, began his run of three goals in 20 minutes in the 16th minute.
A long ball from Daniel Johnson midway inside his own half saw the Irish No.24 race clean away from the half-way line, holding off the attentions of two Brig defenders before sliding the ball past the advancing Lloyd Rigby into the middle of the goal.
It was almost 4-0 on 18 minutes with the only shot on target in the opening period that didn’t end up as a goal coming from an exquisite move.
Bodin had the ball centrally and drove at the heart of the home side’s defence. The Welshman slid the ball inside the left back for the onrushing Calum Woods. The right back drove the ball across to the edge of the six yard box for Maguire, who tried a cheeky back heel, only for Rigby to block and then again did well to deny Daryl Horgan on the follow up.
Like fellow keeper Chris Maxwell in the second half, Declan Rudd was a spectator for much of the half, however, when he was called upon just after the period’s mid-point, he made a superb save. Danny Forbes was the man for the side in all red as he found space 15 yards out and drilled towards the bottom corner, only for the North End No.1 at full stretch to get a strong hand on the ball and palm it out and then get quickly up to block Jamie Milligan’s follow up.
After the 25 minute drinks break – that was needed for both teams in the searing heat – the game’s fourth goal and Maguire’s second arrived just before the half hour mark. This time it was an excellent poacher’s finish from close range with his left foot after a driving run down the left to the byline and a cross from fellow Irishman Horgan.
After Burke had been denied a second by an excellent block by Brig skipper Matt Lawlor and from the resulting corner skipper Tom Clarke was an inch away from getting in on the action with a powerful header, Maguire made it five and made the matchball his own on 36 minutes.
Again, it was excellent wing play down the left from Horgan, who this time played the ball into the overlapping Josh Earl; the new No.3 fired the ball into the penalty area from the left edge of it and Maguire fired home from six yards out.
After the changes at the interval the home side were looking at damage limitations and defended in numbers and deep in their own half after the break, but the chances kept coming for the Lilywhites.
Just before the hour mark, the sixth goal came and it was Louis Moult, with the No.9 on his back, who grabbed it. Ben Pearson had started the move, finding Callum Robinson, who fed the ball in to Moult 12 yards out, who opened up his body and caressed the ball into the bottom right hand corner.
With 11 minutes left Josh Harrop showed quick feet to dance into the penalty area and drew a foul from substitute Chris Churchman, referee Leigh Doughty, just a yard or two away, pointing straight to the spot. The former Manchester United man picked himself up and fired the penalty in with real pace and power, but it crashed off the bar and over.
However, the North End No.10 wasn’t to be denied in the final minute, getting his goal and making it seventh heaven for the team. It was the culmination of a crisp passing move with Harrop collecting it after a one-two on the edge of the box, before dispatching it calmly into the bottom right hand corner, adding the finishing touch to an excellent first work out of pre-season.
PNE First Half Line-Up: Rudd, Woods, Earl, Johnson, Clarke (c), Davies, Bodin, Gallagher, Maguire, Burke, Horgan.
PNE Second Half Line-Up: Maxwell, Fisher, Hughes, Pearson, Storey, Huntington (c), Barkhuizen, Moult, Harrop, Robinson.
Subs Both Halves: Howard, Simpson, Baxter, O’Reilly.
Bamber Bridge Line-Up: Rigby, Wilson, Dodd, Lawlor (c), Charnock, Milligan, Waddecar, Forbes, Boyd, Tanner, Marlow. Subs: Barton, Morgan, Dawson, Doughty, Mahoney, Churchman, Linney.
Referee: Mr L Doughty