Match report: Luton Town 1 Preston North End 1 - Scott Sinclair finds the net but late equaliser denies PNE

Preston North End were left kicking themselves after a late Luton Town equaliser denied them victory at Kenilworth Road.

Saturday, 20th June 2020, 5:19 pm
Updated Saturday, 20th June 2020, 5:21 pm
Scott Sinclair (right) is congratulated by Daniel Johnson after giving Preston North End the lead at Luton

Scott Sinclair's 53rd minute goal - scored on the counter attack - looked to have PNE on course for victory as Championship football restarted after an absence of more than three months.

But with two minutes remaining, Hatters substitute Callum McManaman found the top corner with a shot from 20 yards - the home side's only effort on target of the contest.

Although North End didn't create a whole host of chances, they had the better of the game and could have added to their lead.

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PNE and Luton players take the knee before their clash at Kenilworth Road

It came back to bite them late on and while they held on to sixth place, Alex Neil's men are looking over their shoulders at the pack behind.

This was football not quite as we know it, the empty ground something which will be a common sight over the coming weeks.

It had the feel to start with of a pre-season friendly, the only real atmosphere coming from piped crowd noise over the loud speakers.

The game did pick up more in the second half, with the tempo increasing.

PNE striker Sean Maguire sees a shot blocked by Luton keeper Simon Sluga

As part of social distancing measures, the North End players arrived at the ground in their kits - they were bussed to Luton's training ground after the game to shower.

The teams and match officials came separately on to the pitch and before kick-off, the players gathered around the centre-circle for a period of applause for the NHS.

Both sides then took the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

PNE started in a 4-2-3-1 system, Alan Browne filling in at right-back in place of Darnell Fisher who was only fit enough for the bench.

PNE midfielder Daniel Johnson in action against Luton

Ben Pearson and Paul Gallagher were given the deeper midfield roles, with Daniel Johnson in the No.10 position.

Tom Barkhuizen and Sinclair provided the width, with Luton-born Sean Maguire up front.

Among the substitutes was Billy Bodin, fit again after surgery on his Achilles tendon.

In the first minute, Hatters defender Matty Pearson looped a header over the bar after the home side had forced an early corner.

Maguire came close to opening the scoring at the other end with 10 minutes played, in fact it was the best chance of the first half.

He got a low shot away on the turn from the edge of the box, one which keeper Simon Sluga dived to touch past the post and behind for a corner.

There followed a spell when good approach play got Preston into some decent areas but the final pass was a touch off and moves broke down.

In the 36th minute, Gallagher's shot from the edge of the box caught a deflection and fell into Maguire's path.

Maguire tried to flick it over the keeper but Sluga smothered well and the ball rebounded back off the striker and out for a goal kick.

Six minutes before half-time, another Gallagher effort from outside the box lacked power and went straight at the keeper - Barkhuizen and Johnson linking-up well to set the chance up.

North End broke the deadlock eight minutes into the second half, a goal created on the counter-attack.

Barkhuizen collected possession in midfield, rode a tackle and slipped the ball to Sinclair over-lapping down the left channel.

Sinclair showed a turn of pace to move into the box, cut inside and from the corner of the six-yard box fire across the keeper into the far corner.

Gallagher forced the Luton keeper into a good save four minutes later, a foul on Pearson having brought PNE a free-kick two yards outside the box.

It was Gallagher and Johnson who hovered over the ball, Gallagher playing it short to his midfield partner who rolled it back to him.

Gallagher struck a right-foot drive which Sluga dived to his left to parry away at full stretch.

Alex Neil's first change of the afternoon saw David Nugent replace Maguire in the 65th minute, a switch he was going to make just before Sinclair's goal and so delayed.

Pearson was inches away from doubling PNE's advantage, firing a first-time shot from the edge of the box just over the bar after good work from Johnson to square the ball to him from the left-wing,

A double change soon after that chance saw Fisher and Brad Potts replace Gallagher and Sinclair.

Luton's equaliser came from nowhere and was a superb strike from McManaman.

Picking up a pass from the right, the substitute let fly with a right-foot shot from 20 yards which curled into the far corner beyond Declan Rudd.

Jayden Stockley and Bodin came off the bench as one last throw of the dice but North End couldn't find another goal.

Luton: Sluga, Tunnicliffe, Cranie (Bree 75), Pearson (Bradley 85), Potts, Mpanzu, Rea (Moncur 75), Carter-Vickers, Cornick, Brown (McManaman 75), Collins (Hylton 85). Subs (not used): Lee, Shinnie, Butterfield, Shea.

PNE: Rudd, Browne, Bauer, Davies, Hughes, Pearson, Gallagher (Fisher 77), Barkhuizen (Bodin 90), Johnson (Stockley 90), Sinclair (Potts 77), Maguire (Nugent 65). Subs (not used): Ripley, Storey, Ledson, Harrop.

Referee: John Brooks (Leicestershire)