Preston North End 1-0 Hartlepool United

Danny Mayor’s wondergoal gave Graham Westley his first win as PNE boss in what was an otherwise uninspired performance from the Lilywhites. The scintillating strike was one of only two shots that North End managed to hit the target with all game, but it was enough to seal the points and end Hartlepool’s five game unbeaten run.

An almost unrecognisable Preston team took to the Deepdale turf; for many fans, this was the first time they’d seen Westley’s new signings in action. Despite looking fairly organised and playing a decent passing game, it was clear that they hadn’t yet gelled and were a bit clueless in the final third.

Over the course of a somewhat lackluster encounter, Hartlepool always looked the more likely to score, but the ever-impressive Thorsten Stuckmann and a valiant, committed defensive display ensured North End kept their seventh clean sheet of the season.

An early chance from 17-year-old Luke James was saved well by Stuckmann, but the referee awarded North End a goal kick, much to the dismay of the Pools striker. Anthony Sweeney had possibly the best chance to put his team into the lead when a flicked header from James Brown found him at the back post in good space. His half-volleyed effort lacked conviction and the German keeper once again made a fairly routine save.

A free-kick routine in the second half once again saw Hartlepool go close. James Brown beat his man in the air to win a header at the far post, but Nicky Hunt was on hand to clear off the line.

The game then settled down, and with fifteen minutes left on the clock, it looked to be heading towards a 0-0 bore draw, until substitute Danny Mayor provided a moment of magic to break the deadlock.

The local lad hadn’t really threatened after coming on as a substitute, but after swapping wings with Paul Parry, he received the ball on the left flank, cut inside onto his stronger right foot, and, given time, found 15 yards of space and a sight of goal before hitting a stunning drive into the top corner of Scott Flinders’ goal – a real Goal of the Season contender.

A couple of minutes later and Mayor had the chance to make it 2-0. Put through on goal by a nicely weighted chip, Mayor opted to let the ball bounce rather than hitting it first time, giving Scott Flinders time to close down the angle and make the save. The young winger, it seemed, was enjoying playing on the left.

Even in the dying minutes of the game, Hartlepool were piling on the pressure, and a goal line scramble very nearly earned them a point. Colin Nish looked to be offside after latching on to a header in the box, but the flag stayed down and he managed to get two shots away. The first was saved by Stuckmann, the second cleared off the line once again by Nicky Hunt. An attempted clearance very nearly ended in disaster for the Lilywhites as the ball looped over the head of the Preston keeper, before rebounding off the crossbar, back onto the head of Nish, who, at close range, should really have scored.

North End held on for the win after what was a frustrating, but relatively organised display. The players’ work rate could not be faulted as they all looked 100% committed, and for the first time in what feels like an age, looked like they wanted to win. Despite all the new arrivals, team spirit and camaraderie looks to be high in the camp, and a first win under new boss Westley can only add to that.

The imminent return of Paul Coutts and Iain Hume (and looking a bit further ahead, Neil Mellor) to the squad should provide a bit of imagination in the final third, something which was sorely lacking in this performance. Preston North End leapfrog Hartlepool United to take 12th position, now just nine points from a play-off position.

 – Rory

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One Response

  1. […] Full Match Report | Highlights […]

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