Gillingham 1 PNE 2 full-time

Simon Grayson
Simon Grayson
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Josh Brownhill netted on his full first-team debut as Preston North End beat Gillingham at the Priestfield Stadium.

The 17-year-old midfielder struck in the 53rd minute of the clash in Kent, taking a pass from Stuart Beavon and tucking away a calm finish.

His goal doubled North End’s lead after Keith Keane had netted 60 seconds into the second half to break the deadlock.

Gillingham pulled a goal back in the 76th minute through Danny Kedwell, but North End held out against some strong Gills pressure late on to claim the three points and end a run of three defeats.

PNE boss Simon Grayson watched it all from the stand having been handed a one-game touchline ban by the FA after an exchange of words with the referee after last Saturday’s defeat to Crewe.

Grayson had made two changes to the starting XI, Brownhill - a former Manchester United schoolboy player - and John Welsh coming in at the expense of Joel Byrom and Iain Hume.

The extra body in the middle certainly helped them dominate the first-half, with the majority of play going towards the Rainham End of the ground.

Beavon headed wide early doors after latching on to a knock-back from Kevin Davies.

A Tom Clarke cross from the right-wing found Beavon in the 14th minute, but the striker could only direct his header straight at keeper Stuart Nelson.

Keane shot wide from the edge of the box after good link-up play from Scott Laird and Beavon had carved out the opening.

On the half-hour mark, a PNE counter-attack saw Chris Humphrey get room down the inside-right channel and drive a right-foot effort goalwards which Nelson pushed behind.

Brownhill’s first-time shot from 20 yards flew over the bar as the visitors kept the pressure on.

A rare opportunity for the home side in the opening 45 minutes saw right-back Michael Harriman cut inside from the flank and bend a shot wide of the far post without troubling Declan Rudd.

In the 36th minute, Beavon’s pass played in Laird on the left of the box, his angled shot fizzing across the six--yard box and just wide of the back stick.

If North End weren’t rewarded for their dominance of the first half, then they were early in the second half.

Twice in the opening eight minutes they struck to stamp their authority on proceedings.

In the 47th minute, the ball broke to Keane in the box after a quickly taken throw-in, and his low shot clipped off a Gills player and into the far bottom corner.

There was a scare within the couple of minutes, Chris Whelpdale breaking clear into the box at the other end.

But the previously unemployed Rudd spread himself superbly to smother the winger’s effort.

North End’s second goal arrived in the 53rd minute and what a moment it was for young Brownhill.

The busy Beavon was the creator, taking possession on the right side of the box before squaring a pass inside to the teenager who steered a low shot past the diving Nelson from 12 yards.

Brownhill’s goal came in front of his mum and dad who were with the 300 travelling Preston supporters

In the 68th minute, a free-kick from Gills substitute Myles Weston hit the wall and went behind for a corner.

Straight after that, Brownhill went down with a touch of cramp, and that was a satisfying full debut over and done with - Joel Byrom replacing him.

Gillingham reduced the arrears in the 76th minute, Keane’s trip on Weston to the left of the box giving a free-kick away.

Whelpdale delivered the free-kick into the box where Kedwell climbed at the back post to send a header across Rudd and into the net.

Another Whelpdale free-kick in the 80th minute went round the wall and straight at Rudd.

Soon after at the other end, the busy Beavon collected a Davies flick-on and fired wide of the target.

In the 87th minute, Kedwell latched on to a flick in the box but thankfully could only direct his header into Rudd’s gloves.

As the game entered its final few minutes, North End had to ride plenty of Gillingham pressure.

But they did so superbly, displaying some brave defending in and around their box.

Substitute Lee Holmes almost eased the pressure in the 94th minute, cutting in from the right-wing and seeing a curling shot whistle just beyond the far post.

Gillingham: Nelson, Harriman, Legge, Barrett, Martin, Whelpdale, Gregory, Hollands (Akinfenwa 88), Lee (German 66), Kedwell, McDonald (Weston 57). Subs not used: Linganzi, Davies, Dack, Howard.

PNE: Rudd, Clarke, Huntington, Wright, Humphrey (Holmes 90), Brownhill (Byrom 70), Keane, Welsh, Laird, Beavon (Buchanan 85), Davies. Subs not used: Garner, Mousinho, Hume, Stuckmann.

Referee: Graham Horwood (Luton)