The New Year opened at Deepdale as PNE welcomed Middlesbrough to PR1 along with their recently appointed manager Tony Pulis. It would be the first of four league fixtures in January as we started 2018, with an FA Cup third round game also bringing in the New Year before the fourth round would help to close out the month.
Boro took the lead in the opening game of the year, Daniel Ayala meeting a cross to head home, Pulis already implementing his set piece knowledge in the North East. It was 20 seconds and seven PNE touches of the ball later that PNE drew level. Callum Robinson rounding off a sweeping passing move that culminated in Tom Barkhuizen finding the No.37’s head this time, at the far post.
Another far post cross would see us take the lead, this time from another Aston Villa academy product. Daniel Johnson’s in-swinging cross from the right found Jordan Hugill who nodded past Darren Randolph to score for the second time against his boyhood team.
In what was a stunning first half performance from the Lilywhites, Robinson and Barkuizen would both see efforts hit the crossbar as North End enjoyed 72% possession and 20 shots.
Middlesbrough rallied in the second half and it took a moment of inspiration from Jonny Howson for the North East side to draw level, the midfielder bending an effort past Chris Maxwell from the edge of the area.Another set piece situation for Boro would complete the scoring, Ayala had come forward for a corner and attacked an Adama Traore cross to complete their comeback, ending North End's nine match unbeaten run.
A traditional FA Cup game was PNE's next fixture, with a long trip to meet a former North Ender in Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth.
Wycombe were put to the sword in the third round clash by an excellent attacking display from PNE – as January signing Billy Bodin made his first appearance for the club.
Josh Harrop opened the scoring at Adams Park, arching a free kick over the wall and into the top corner, an indication of the quality of goals that were about to be scored. Next came another addition to the Alan Browne Goal of the Season contenders, as a loose ball bounced out of the area, the midfielder set himself and unleashed a left footed volley that found the top corner, giving the 'keeper no chance.
The Chairboys interrupted our scoring with one of their own, Luke O’Nien seeing his cross deflected at the near post past Declan Russ, but that was as good as it would get for our hosts.
Daryl Horgan was next on the score sheet, classic wing-play form him saw him stand up and beat his man before North End saw a cross deflected past the Wycombe ‘keeper, balance and a two goal lead restored. Given a penalty from a corner, Browne got his second of the game, lifting a penalty out of the reach of Scott Brown in the home net.
The yellows rounded off the scoring after tenacious work from Cunningham down the left saw an early cross swung in, curling onto the head of Harrop who didn’t need to break stride to guide the ball home. A brilliant performance and result for the Lilywhites in the historical competition.
Next was a trip to Millwall for what was a close encounter. Billy Bodin made his first league start for the club after joining from Bristol Rovers earlier in the month, but it was the Lions that would take the lead at the Den. A cross from the right was missed at the near post but Aiden O’Brien was also in the box to fire under Chris Maxwell.
The Lions’ first shot and goal of the game coming against the run of play. PNE would deservedly be level just ten minutes before the end, Cunningham firing a low cross into the box which Callum Robinson creatively finished off with his chest, ending the game even.
PNE were back at Deepdale the following week and the story would be a similar one. Another score draw on the cards against Birmingham City but this time it was a first PNE goal for Ben Davies.
In a season where he proved to be a revelation at the back for the Lilywhites after spending over a decade at the club, Davies couldn’t have asked for an easier finish.
Paul Gallagher’s cross was met by Blues defender Harlee Dean whose touch allowed the ball to head back across the goal, for PNE’s Young Player of the Year to tap home. The equaliser for the visitors came through a blocked clearance and a mix up at the back allowing Sam Gallagher time with an empty net to level things up and that was the way the game finished, a point a piece at Deepdale.
Another FA Cup tie was the penultimate January fixture. In a game looking destined for a replay, Billy Sharp was adjudged to have been fouled and was awarded a penalty. The Blades skipper picked himself up to score the penalty, proving a decisive kick. North End weren’t without their chances but neither side could create anything clear cut, a set piece settling the tie in the end.
Finally in the first month of the year was Nottingham Forest, as PNE ended the month in fine fashion. It had been 15 years without a win at the City Ground but that run came to an end as PNE beat the Reds 3-0. Billy Bodin opened his account for the club, profiting from North End’s high press and a short backpass to poke home.
Barkhuizen doubled the lead, heading a Gallagher corner past Jordan Smith from the centre of the six yard box. With eight minutes to go, Mancienne and Bodin would again be involved in a goal, this time the defender brought down the winger for a penalty. Daniel Johnson stepped up and continued his perfect run of scoring penalties to make it 3-0.
PNE ended the month in ninth place, three points off the Play-Offs, two draws, a win and a loss in the league for January. The winter transfer window also saw Louis Moult and Connor Simpson join the PNE ranks, Moult joining whilst suffering a hamstring injury so unavailable for action in his first month with the club. Simpson on the other hand got off to the perfect start, scoring a hat-trick against local rivals Blackpool for the U18s in his first appearance in a PNE shirt.