A thoroughly professional performance from Alex Neil’s side saw the PNE overcome Mansfield Town at Deepdale by four goals to nil in the opening game of the Carabao Cup.
Tom Barkhuizen, Sean Maguire and Patrick Bauer gave them a comfortable half-time lead and Josh Harrop – fresh from his new contract – added a fourth 20 minutes into the second half to put the Lilywhites in the hat for round two.
Tom Bayliss got the 2020/21 season underway at Deepdale and it was a positive start from the home side as Barkhuizen delivered a superb ball into the penalty area from the right-hand side, with Maguire forcing a save from Marek Stech in the Stags goal with a flicked header.
Graham Coughlan’s men had not come just to lie down, however, with a 3-5-2 formation and brave press, going man to man with the front six and they were almost rewarded with the opener on 12 minutes when the ball was cut back to the edge of the box and Andy Cook took a touch to his right and drilled an effort off the foot of the inside of the left-hand upright.
This provided the spark that North End needed and they were in front less than 90 seconds later. Maguire won a flick on, collected by Brad Potts, who sent a smart ball out to Barkhuizen on the right, with the No.29 firing a bullet like effort back across goal and just inside the post, into the far corner, doing what Cook had been unable to at the other end.
It was two before the mid-point of the first half. This time it was Harrop who was the provider, sending a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Irish international forward Maguire, who collected, controlled and calmly slotted past Stech into the Bill Shankly Kop end goal.
Potts went close with a header from another arkhuizen cross, but it was from PNE’s first corner of the day that they made it three, just before the half hour mark.
Harrop provided the cross from the left, deftly flicked on by captain Alan Browne – playing the game at right back – with the ball going all the way through to the back post to Bauer, the German sliding home from a very tight angle, almost apologetically.
There were chances to further extend the lead before half-time, with Stech saving from Harrop and then Josh Earl, making his first start for the Lilywhites since April 2019’s trip to West Brom, seeing a shot blocked by visiting skipper Ryan Sweeney.
The Stags started the second half brightly, with Cook blazing over with a left-footed shot and Connor Ripley, between the sticks for PNE, needing to make a good punch to clear Corey O’Keefe’s dangerous cross.
But the hosts came to life again quickly, with the quick feet of Harrop almost presenting himself with an opportunity, the ball eventually falling at the feet of Bayliss, whose deflected shot flat-footed Stech, but he flung out a leg to keep the ball out.
Harrop, after being involved in goals two and three, was not to be denied on 65 minutes, celebrating his contract extension with the fourth goal. Potts was bearing down on the penalty area before putting the ball out wide to Barkhuizen. The scorer of the opener turned provider, drilling the ball into the path of the No.10, who took a touch and fired hard into the top right corner from 12 yards out.
With a place in the bag for the next round already secured, possession was now the name of the game, with Alex Neil’s side having long spells of keeping the ball, frustrating their League Two opponents.
They could have further added to their advantage; Potts firing over from 20 yards out, after a nice build-up and substitutes Scott Sinclair and Joe Rafferty both having goalbound efforts deflected, but like the first round last year – away at Bradford, where Barkhuizen and Harrop were again amongst the scorers – as well as the last time we met Mansfield, in the same competition, back in 2004, the game ended 4-0.
PNE line-up: Ripley, Browne (c), Earl, Pearson (Ledson, 70), Bauer, Huntington, Barkhuizen, Bayliss (Rafferty, 70), Maguire (Sinclair, 74), Potts, Harrop. Subs not used: Hudson, Davies, Stockley, Bodin.
Mansfield Town line-up: Stech, O’Keeffe, Benning, Menayese, Sweeney (c), Rawson (O’Driscoll, 64), Charsley, Maris, Cook, Perch (T Sinclair, 64), Rose (Reid, 76). Subs not used: Stone, Clark, Knowles, Smith.
Referee: Mr R Joyce