MATCH REPORT: PNE 1 Birmingham 1

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Jordan Pickford stole the show as North End weathered a mighty second-half City storm to draw 1-1 with Birmingham.

Pickford nabbed the headlines from PNE’s on-loan Middlesbrough winger Adam Reach who bagged his first goal for the club in fortuitous fashion in the 20th minute.

The winger’s low cross from just outside the box on the right evaded everyone and curled into the bottom left corner.

North End deserved the lead but Birmingham fought back and on-loan Sunderland keeper Pickford made a string of impressive saves to keep the Blues and their quick-fire counter-attacks at bay.

But he was finally beaten by captain Michael Morrison who’s powerful header was adjudged to have crossed the line in the 68th minute.

City also squandered a number of golden opportunities. Demarai Gray missed two one-on-one opportunities, Jacques Maghoma nodded the ball at the bar with the goal at his mercy and Grounds also hit the woodwork in an entertaining end-to-end game at Deepdale.

PNE boss Simon Grayson made no changes to the side that beat Reading 1-0 on Saturday.

North End dominated the opening stages and Alan Browne headed wide at the back post and skied nodded another Reach cross over the bar.

Reach - who’s luck seemed to desert him in Saturday’s clash against Reading - benefited from a slice of good fortune as his low, hard cross from outside the box on the right nestled in the far corner in the 20th minute.

Birmingham grew into the game as the half wore on and threatened on the counter.

City defender Neal Eardley drove down the right and cut inside before launching a fierce strike that just fizzed over Pickford’s bar in the 32nd minute.

Daniel Johnson’s neat pass found Garner on the edge of the box with his back to goal in the 34th minute and the striker spun and unleashed a fierce effort that stung the palms of a diving Kuszczak who just tipped the ball over the bar.

Johnson sprinted from his own half and decided to shoot when he approached the top of the box but his strike was easily collected by Kuszczak.

Demari Gray held his head in his hands after he wasted a golden opportunity to level the scores in the 43rd minute. Stephen Gleeson’s sublime defence splitting chip sent the forward through on goal but with all the time in the world he scuffed his shot and it looped easily into Pickford’s arms.

Moments later up the other end Kuszczak batted away a corner straight into the path of Browne who’s first time effort from 10-yards out fizzed wide of the left post.

Birmingham made the better start of the second 45 although they rarely tested Pickford in the opening 10 minutes.

But the visitor’s finally tested the PNE keeper in the 56th minute. PNE striker Garner gave the ball away and Birmingham countered and unleashed the lightning quick Gray who cut inside from the left and forced Pickford to dive low to his left and pull off a one handed stop.

City should have been level just moments later as the lively Gray beat two PNE players as he raced to the back line and lifted the ball across goal into the path of the unmarked Maghoma who nodded the ball against the bar with the goal at his mercy.

City’s Eardley was booked for a late challenge and minutes later Pickford made another fantastic save.

Gleeson threaded the ball through to Jon Toral who found himself one-on-one with Pickford and the on-loan Sunderland shot-stopper made an incredible stop, diving low to his right and just tipping the ball wide with his fingertips.

But City levelled from the subsequent corner as Gleeson whipped the ball in from the left, Morrison pounced and nodded the ball towards goal, Vermijl cleared but the linesman ruled that the ball had crossed the line in the 68th minute.

Birmingham’s Jonathan Grounds hit the woodwork as he pounced on a flick-on from a City corner.

Up the other end Johnson and Cunningham combined well to tee-up Garner in space on the penalty spot but the striker’s scuffed shot was easily collected by Kuszczak. The keeper released the ball and City immediately launched a counter-attack that lead to Pickford making another good save to deny Vaughan.

Reach kicked at fresh air as he tried to connect with Johnson’s sublime cross at the back post and Morrison forced Pickford into another fine save as both sides went for the jugular.

Vaughan and Cunningham were booked for an off the ball incident as City waited to take a corner in the 81st and City’s Kieftenbeld was booked two minutes later for a foul on Johnson as the ball continued to fizz from end-to-end.

Gray nearly clinched it for City in stoppage time as Birmingham launched another slick counter-attack. He sprinted towards goal and found himself one-on-one with Pickford but he sliced the ball wide of the right post from six-yards out.

PNE: Pickford, Vermijl, Clarke, Huntington, Cunningham, Johnson, Browne (Kilkenny, 83), Gallagher (Welsh, 70), Reach, Keane (Hugill, 70) Garner. Subs not used: Kirkland, Wright, Doyle, Woods.

Birmingham: Kuszczak, Eardley, Grounds, Kieftenbeld, Gray, Gleeson, Vaughan (Halford, 88), Maghoma (Davis, 88), Shinnie (Torol, 46), Spector, Morrison. Subs not used: Legzdins, Solomon-Otabor, Caddis, Brock-Madsen.

Referee: Kevin Wright (Cambridgeshire)

Attendance: 10,668 (804 away)