PNE 1 Rotherham United 1 full-time

Preston North End's Manager Simon Grayson
Preston North End's Manager Simon Grayson
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A superb Joe Garner goal dragged Preston North End back into their play-off first-leg clash with Rotherham United at Deepdale.

His 49th minute volley earned the Lilywhites a draw after Alex Revell had broken clear to shoot the Millers ahead in the first half.

It was the third draw between the sides this season and it is all to play for in the second leg at the New York Stadium on Thursday night.

North End put in a poor performance in the first half, one which was largely bossed by a well-organised and lively Rotherham side.

The lead given to them by Revell was a deserved one for the Millers, but it was wiped out in some style by Garner.

PNE’s player of the year and top scorer, controlled a Tom Clarke cross on his chest, flicked the ball past his marker before hammering a stunning volley from 20 yards which dipped over goalkeeper Adam Collin.

Simon Grayson had made three changes to the Lilywhites side.

Into the side came Clarke, Alan Browne and Craig Davies in place of Scott Wiseman, Neil Kilkenny and Stuart Beavon.

Clarke returned at right-back after two games on the sidelines nursing a calf strain, with Browne taking over from the injured Neil Kilkenny in the centre of midfield.

Up front, Davies was preferred to Beavon, the on-loan Bolton striker having scored in the 3-3 draw against the Millers in February.

With a little over a minute gone, persistence by Garner in the box forced the game’s first corner.

That early burst gave way to a more cagey spell, both teams sizing each other out in something of a midfield battle.

Unfortunately it was North End who blinked first, falling behind in the 20th minute to a goal on the break.

They had just had a decent opening themselves, Paul Gallagher’s low cross finding Garner in the box but the striker’s first touch was heavy and the chance went begging.

Rotherham’s opener came when Ben Pringle lifted a ball down the visitors’ left-wing.

Revell beat Jack King to it, heading it over the defender and chasing his own knock forward, the striker racing into the box and beating Declan Rudd with a low shot.

For the remainder of the first period, Preston found themselves largely on the back foot, pressed well by a well-organised Millers side.

There was an opening in the 35th minute for the hosts, Lee Holmes coming inside from the right and feeding a pass through to Garner.

But the leading scorer didn’t get hold of his shot properly and it rolled tamely through to Collin.

At the other end, James Tavernier’s 25-yard drive struck Bailey Wright and went behind for a corner.

If Deepdale was in need of a lift after the poor shot in the first 45 minutes, then it certainly got one early in the second half.

Clarke took possession on the half-way line and aimed a long ball towards the Rotherham box.

It was taken by Garner on his chest 20 yards out with his back to goal, the striker then flicking the ball across Kari Arnason and striking a right-foot volley over Collin and into the back of the net.

The ground erupted as Garner wheeled away to celebrate his 24th goal of a productive season.

Rotherham were close to regaining their lead in the 55th minute though, Lee Frecklington making a run from deep to break clear of the PNE back line.

But as he got into the box and shaped to shoot, Rudd was out at his feet to block superbly.

Kevin Davies and Keith Keane joined the action just after the hour mark in place of Craig Davies and Browne.

Rob Milsom went close for the visitors in the 65th minute, his low drive from the edge of the box flashing just wide of the target.

North End got a head of steam going towards the end, a snap shot from Garner travelling over the bar.

Then soon after, Garner got on the end of a Gallagher corner, but off balance could only head the wrong side of the far post.

Davies saw an 89th minute shot clip off a Rotherham leg and out for a corner.

There was a late scare for the Lilywhites, Millers substitute Harris Vuckic’s far-post header pushed over the bar by Rudd.

North End will have to be much better in the second leg but at least will head to South Yorkshire on level pegging with the tie only at half-time.

PNE: Rudd, Clarke, King, Wright, Laird, Holmes (Humphrey 77), Welsh, Browne (Keane 62), Gallagher, C Davies (K Davies 62), Garner. Subs not used: Beavon, Buchanan, Wiseman, Stuckmann.

Rotherham: Collin, Brindley (O’Connor 23), Morgan, Arnason, Skarz; Tavernier, Frecklington (Davis 62), Milsom, Pringle, Revell, Thomas (Vuckic 83). Subs not used: Shearer, Walker, Rowe, Hitchcock.

Referee: Iain Williamson (Berkshire)

Attendance: 17,221 (1,881 away