On a glorious afternoon at Deepdale, with the sun out, former players getting a fantastic reception and the fans rolling back the years in replica strips from years gone by, Alex Neil’s Lilywhites turned on the style.
A first half brace from Callum Robinson and then a second half one from Lukas Nmecha put North End in cruise control against already relegated Ipswich Town, as they played some superb football in front of the Bank Holiday crowd.
They started with real intent with Nmecha brought down on edge of box after superb forward play only 15 seconds into the game, Paul Gallagher’s resulting free kick hitting the wall.
PNE lined up with a 4-4-2 formation, Nmecha partnering Sean Maguire in attack, with Gallagher and Robinson on the flanks; Joe Rafferty getting his first start at right back, Darnell Fisher moving to the left – one of three changes to the side that started at West Brom.
And they took control of the game six minutes in. Daniel Johnson provided the assist after some superb patient build-up involving at least seven of the outfield players; Johnson eventually finding CR7 on the edge of the ‘D’, who curled his effort past Bartosz Bialkowski into the bottom right hand corner.
On 13 minutes Nmecha was sent clean through by Gallagher, Aristote Nsiala making a superb last-ditch block to deny him a second of the game. The resulting Gallagher corner met by Ben Davies – who hit the left-hand post with follow up over the bar from Ryan Ledson.
But it was 2-0 at the half’s mid-point as Robinson found the net again with a superb volley into top right-hand corner from 15 yards out after the ball was headed up in air by Nsiala from debutant Rafferty’s cross from the right.
On the stroke of half-time Robinson was denied a first half hat-trick by a brilliant Bialkowski save and then on the follow up Nsiala headed Nmecha’s header off the line – until that point it looked like it wouldn’t be the on loan Manchester City man’s day, but that was to change after the break.
It took ten minutes of the second half, but the goal came as the No.45 fired home from close range after Bialkowski spilt Robinson’s shot after superb play from Maguire, driving from 50 yards out into the box and then sliding the ball left for the wing-man to shoot on target.
Just after the hour mark, a rare chance fell the way of Paul Lambert’s side as Kayden Jackson hit the bar after picking up a loose ball in an empty penalty area, but failing to find the target with Declan Rudd stranded.
And with 15 minutes to go it was four for the home side as some superb play by Robinson saw him this time turn provider, picking the ball up down the left, driving into the box and drilling the ball across goal finding Nmecha at the back post, who drilled into the net past the visiting goalkeeper.
Substitutes Louis Moult and Jayden Stockley combined superbly with the latter denied by a brilliant save from Bialkowski with two minutes left. Moult collecting a through ball and finding his strike-partner unmarked, he Cruyff turned his defender to shoot low, but the keeper made a fine stop and it remained 4-0 on a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in PR1.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Rafferty, Fisher, Ledson, Storey, Davies, Gallagher (c) (Moult, 70), Johnson, Nmecha, Maguire (Ginnelly, 73), Robinson (Stockley, 76). Subs not used: Crowe, Earl, Huntington, O’Reilly.
Ipswich Town line-up: Bialkowski, Chambers (c), Skuse, Jackson, Bishop (Chalobah, 76), Downes, Nsiala, Emmanuel (Bree, 46), Kenlock, Judge, El Mizouni (Keane, 59). Subs not used: Gerken, Nolan, Dozzell, Ndaba.
Referee: Mr S Martin
Attendance: 12,546 (428 Ipswich Town fans)