Crewe 2 PNE 1 full-time

Preston North End's Manager Simon Grayson
Preston North End's Manager Simon Grayson
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Preston North End finished the regular season on a disappointing note as they were beaten by Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road.

The Railwaymen secured themselves League One safety, with the Lilywhites slipping to fifth as a result.

They will face Rotherham United in the play-off semi-finals, at Deepdale next Saturday (5.15pm) and then away at the New York Stadium a week on Thursday.

North End turned in a poor performance in Cheshire and fell behind in the ninth minute to an Adam Dugdale header.

Joe Garner had a shot saved by Alex keeper Ben Garratt just after the interval, that the clearest chance for the visitors until a late consolation.

Crewe doubled their lead on the hour mark, Uche Ikpeazu getting the better of Bailey Wright on the side of the box and crossing for Mathias Pogba to score.

Skipper John Welsh pulled a goal back in stoppage-time, firing home a knock down from substitute Kevin Davies.

Simon Grayson had made two changes to the Lilywhites side.

Scott Wiseman made his first appearance at right-back for more than a month after recovering from a knee injury, taking over from Keith Keane.

In the centre of midfield, Neil Kilkenny replaced Alan Browne, Kilkenny having scored within a minute of coming on as substitute in last Saturday’s victory over Gillingham.

After a nervous first couple of minutes, it was Crewe who settled the better of the sides.

The hosts almost took the lead when skipper Matt Tootle got behind the North End defence down the right channel.

He checked inside past Scott Laird into the post as he shaped to shoot, Wright got across with a fine sliding challenge to take the ball behind.

It was only a temporary reprieve though, Jon Guthrie delivering the resulting corner into the box which the unmarked Dugdale rose to head into the roof of the net at the back post.

A shot from Kilkenny bounced off a Crewe player and out for a corner, Paul Gallagher’s flag-kick headed inches over by Joe Garner.

But that chance aside, it was Crewe who were the brighter side for the opening half hour with them looking a yard sharper than North End.

Jack King’s challenge on Ikpeazu resulted in the ball squirming into the path of Byrom Moore who raced clear on goal.

Wright got back to make a challenge just inside the box, Moore also losing his footing at the vital moment with the danger cleared.

Ikpeazu poked a bouncing ball across goal and wide of the far post after the powerful front man had got the better of both King and Wright.

North End had a couple of chances in the final quarter of an hour of the first half, Garner looping a header over the bar from Gallagher’s cross.

Then Kilkenny let fly with a right-foot shot from 25 yards which cleared the bar by a few inches.

In the opening exchanges of the second half, Stuart Beavon’s flick found Garner on the edge of the box, his first-time shot pushed behind by keeper Ben Garratt.

A few minutes later, Garner volleyed well wide from Wiseman’s low cross.

Crewe’s second goal came in the 60th minute, Ikpeazu managing to get possession on the right side of the box as Wright attempted to shield it out of play.

Ikpeazu cut the ball back into the path of Pogba who swept a close-range shot past Declan Rudd.

Grayson responded with a triple change - one they had been preparing before the goals - Davies, Chris Humphrey and Browne joining the action in place of Beavon, Holmes and Kilkenny.

Crewe had their tails up, with Pogba planting a header wide from a good position.

At the other end, Browne showed some neat footwork in the box but could only poke a low shot straight at the keeper.

In the 73rd minute, Ikpeau’s header was travelling towards the far corner until Rudd dived to hold it - Browne was covering on the line had the keeper missed it.

Five minutes later, Rudd produced a fine save, back-pedalling to stretch and tip Chuks Aneke’s chip on to the top of the bar and behind for a corner.

As North End looked for a way back into the contest, Gallagher cut inside from the left-wing and hit a shot which struck a Crewe defender and looped just over the bar.

Then with 88 minutes on the clock, Garner met a Humphrey cross but got under the ball and put his header over the top.

PNE grabbed a consolation in the first minute of stoppage-time, Davies’ header down falling to Welsh who lashed a first-time shot into the bottom corner from 15 yards.

Crewe: Garratt, Tootle, Ellis, Dugdale, Guthrie, Grant, Turton, Pogba (Aneke 74), Nolan, Moore, Ikpeazu (Leitch-Smith 85). Subs not used: Mellor, Clayton, Ray, Oliver, Phillips.

PNE: Rudd, Wiseman, King, Wright, Laird, Holmes (Humphrey 61), Welsh, Kilkenny (Browne 61), Gallagher, Beavon (K Davies 61), Garner. Subs not used: Keane, Buchanan, C Davies, Stuckmann.

Referee: Andy Haines (Tyne and Wear)

Attendance: 7,458 (2,232)