A young North End side put on a positive performance in difficult conditions to take a point from a six-goal thriller at the Accrington Stanley Community Trust Hub on Tuesday afternoon.
A brace from Finlay Cross-Adair and a third stunning strike from Kian Best in as many games got the goals for the Lilywhites, whilst Cross-Adair was also denied a hat-trick and a match-winner by a penalty save from home goalkeeper Liam Isherwood.
With Jacob Slater and Josh Seary away on international duty with the Republic of Ireland U19s, Lewis Coulton and Ethan Eccleston – who impressed on his first Central League start – came into the side that had drawn with Blackpool a week previously on the flanks.
It was a wild afternoon, with strong wind, bright sunshine from one end and a very heavy pitch, so when skipper Noah Mawene switched ends at the toss, PNE looked to take advantage and did so early.
A clever ball from Best, using the wind, flew over the Stanley defence down the left and Cross-Adair raced onto it, into the box and fired a vicious left-footed shot past Isherwood into the top left corner from 15 yards out on 11 minutes.
However, the lead didn’t last long, as on 18 minutes the experienced Jack Nolan found space on the right to clip a cross into the box, that hung on the wind and allowed Owen Devonport to nod past James Pradic.
Despite the conditions, the young North End side were trying their hardest to play on the deck and a slick move saw the youngest man on the pitch, Eccleston, find Mawene on the right, who pulled the ball back for Cross-Adair, but his first-time effort was just over the bar.
The hosts went into half-time ahead when they grabbed a second six minutes before the interval. It was the same pair combining as their equaliser, with Nolan crossing from the right and this time Devonport stooped at the front post to head into the bottom right-hand corner.
The leveller came midway the second half and had been coming. Kacper Pasiek, who was on for the injured Coulton, worked space on the left and found Best, who delivered a superb cross with the outside of his boot and Cross-Adair headed home from close range.
PNE’s No.29 was denied a hat-trick just two minutes later by a great save from Isherwood, after a quick one-two with Kitt Nelson opened up space in the penalty area.
But, on 71 minutes, North End found themselves behind again, when Accrington – completely against the run of play – saw a long, straight free-kick from Nolan spilled into the path of home captain Harry Perritt, who poked home from inside the six-yard box.
The last 20 minutes were all PNE, though, and they were back on level terms on 74 minutes when Pasiek was brought down 25 yards out. Best stepped up, whipping a superb free-kick from the left-hand channel into the top right-hand corner, giving the host’s goalkeeper no chance.
And three minutes later they had a great chance to win it, when Cross-Adair again exchanged passes with Nelson, before being brought down by Isherwood in the box. He got up and took the penalty himself, going down the middle, but the stopper denied him with his feet as he dived to his right.
Chances, though, continued to come. Nelson and Cross-Adair twice saw shots either blocked or deflected wide, but in the final seconds an opportunity fell to Mawene after Eccleston’s pacy run down the right, but a red-shirted body somehow got a block in on the line with Isherwood beaten and the game finished 3-3.
PNE line-up: Pradic; Wallbank, Taylor, Best; Eccleston, Kamara, Mawene, Bennett (Horan, 63), Coulton (Pasiek, 51); Cross-Adair, Nelson. Subs not used: Davis, McGhee, Goldsmith.