Fleetwood Town 2 Preston North End 3: Central League title victory for PNE

Preston North End were crowned Central League champions after beating Fleetwood Town at Poolfoot Farm.

By Dave Seddon
Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 3:49 pm

It was a battle of the division’s top two and the Lilywhites had to pull off a victory to overtake their hosts at the top of the table in the final league game for both sides.

Fleetwood were two points better off going into the contest and had the better goal difference, but North End swung both the contest and the destiny of the title in their favour in the Thornton Cleveleys sunshine.

The home side took an early lead through Akiel Raffie, an advantage they held until just before half-time when PNE skipper Harry Nevin fired his side level.

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Mikey O’Neill then scored twice in the space of eight second-half minutes to put the Lilywhites 3-1 to the good.

But a late Danny Edwards goal set up a thrilling finale and it needed a superb save deep into stoppage-time by North End goalkeeper James Pradic to deny Fleetwood an equaliser and the title.

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The Preston team was in the main made up of Under-19s players, however Tom Barkhuizen made his return from injury and Matthew Olosunde played in the back three.

Preston North End celebrate scoring their third goal against Fleetwood Town. Pic: Ian Robinson/PNEFC

It was Barkhuizen’s first slice of action since January and he got a 45-minute run under his belt.

Barkhuizen, who is out of contract in the summer, had an early shot saved by Town keeper Tom Donaghy, before the hosts took an eight minute lead.

Raffie found space down the left hand side of the box and drove a low shot across Pradic into the far bottom corner..

Donaghy saved from Joe Rodwell-Grant after the ball had spun off a defender into the PNE striker’s path, Barkhuizen unable to connect properly with the rebound at the far post.

North End equalised in the 43rd minute, centre-half Nevin hitting a shot on the turn into the net from six yards after a corner had caused a scramble in the goalmouth.

Ethan Walker replaced Barkhuizen at the break, Walker partnering Rodwell-Grant up front in the 3-5-2 system.

The game swung PNE’s way in the 55th minute after Josh Seary was pulled back by Drew Barker as they chased a ball down the right hand side of the box, the referee awarding a penalty.

O’Neill saw his spot-kick parried by Donaghy but the midfielder was first to the rebound and knocked it into the net.

The best goal of North End’s three came as the game moved into the 63rd minute, Dana Amarai playing a superb ball out to the right channel for Seary to chase.

Seary reached it ahead of his marker and knocked it inside for O’Neill to sweep a first-time shot into the roof of the net at the near post.

The visitors had a couple of chances to stretch their lead but not taking them led to an anxious closing spell.

In the 89th minute, Chiekh Thiam got past Aaron Bennett and Jacob Slater down the side of the box and his low cross was finished off by Edwards at the far post.

It was then a case of PNE trying to run the clock down but with five minutes of added on time played, Edwards got a shot away which Pradic sprung to his right to tip past the post.

Fleetwood: Donaghy, Thiam, Hoyle, Baker, Trialist A, McMillan, Thompson, Raffie, Edwards, Trialist B, White (Morrison 76). Subs (not used): Rees, Smith, Khela, Leggett.

PNE: Pradic, Olosunde, Nevin (Mawene 84), Best (Slater 73), Seary, Amarai, O’Neill, Bennett, Coulton, Rodwell-Grant, Barkhuizen (Walker 46, Holland Wilkinson 87). Sub (not used): Lombard.

Referee: Mr S Robinson