Preston North End 1 Aston Villa 1 - match report from Deepdale as injury ravaged PNE earn a deserved point against Aston Villa

Lukas Nmecha collects the ball after scoring Preston's equaliser against Aston Villa
Lukas Nmecha collects the ball after scoring Preston's equaliser against Aston Villa

Preston North End turned in one of their best performances of the season to take a more than deserved draw from their Deepdale clash with Aston Villa.

The last game of 2018 was a cracker and had North End won it, Villa could have had few complaints.

PNE left-back Andrew Hughes challenges Aston Villa winger Anwar El Ghazi

PNE left-back Andrew Hughes challenges Aston Villa winger Anwar El Ghazi

With the squad down to the bare bones and four teenagers on the bench, perhaps this was a game which PNE supporters entered with a feeling of hope rather than expectation.

But they put together a very good performance, with them confident in possession and playing at a good tempo in front of a bumper 19,126 attendance.

Twice the hosts hit the woodwork- early on through Jordan Storey and a later effort from Tom Barkhuizen.

After bossing the first half, North End dropped concentration on the stroke of half-time to concede - Tammy Abraham left unmarked at a corner to head home.

PNE's Graham Burke holds off John McGinn's challenge

PNE's Graham Burke holds off John McGinn's challenge

Back came Alex Neil's men in the second half and an Ahmed Elmohamady own goal - claimed by Lukas Nmecha - brought them level.

The draw came after two defeats and will hopefully put them back on track heading into the new year.

With Ben Davies and Alan Browne having joined the casualty list with hamstring injuries, the North End side has shown two changes from the Boxing Day defeat to Hull.

Storey and Ryan Ledson came into the starting XI, the bench including four teenagers in Connor Simpson, Ethan Walker, Jack Baxter and Adam O'Reilly.

North End's first-half display was chalk and cheese from the rather flat offering against Hull, with them moving the ball well and playing at a high tempo.

They struck the woodwork inside the opening two minutes, Storey thumping a shot against the bar after Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland had failed to collect a corner under pressure from Paul Huntington.

Soon after that, Barkhuizen got behind the visitors' defence to meet a ball over the top but put too much on his shot and lifted it too high.

Only a fine save from Nyland kept Preston out in the 33rd minute, Daniel Johnson's superb diagonal ball finding the run of Graham Burke in the box.

Burke stretched to meet it on the volley, Nyland throwing himself across to tip it into the air and over the bar.

At the other end, Anwar El Ghazi blazed a shot into the Alan Kelly Town End after space had opened up in front of him on the edge of the North End penalty area.

All the good work of the first half was undone when Villa took the lead on the stroke of half-time, again from a set piece.

Glenn Whelan's corner from the left travelled across to the unattended Abraham who had the simple task of heading into the net from six yards.

Thirty seconds after the interval, Barkhuizen's pass down the right channel sent Nmecha racing into the box.

He probably took one more touch than was needed before shooting low, the striker's shot clipping Nyland as it went through the keeper's legs - that enough to take it away from goal.

Soon after Rudd dived to his left to push away a low shot from Conor Hourihane, another Villa chance seeing John McGinn send a header over the bar from a right-wing cross.

Barkhuizen needed treatment after being clattered by Nyland as he chased a high ball into the box, three medics attending to him before he was able to continue.

The winger got the better of Nyland soon after when he got above him to meet a Johnson cross and loop a header goalwards, Alan Hutton getting back to clear off the line.

That merely delayed North End, with them getting an equaliser just as the clock went beyond the hour mark.

Johnson was the architect, his pass finding Gallagher who slid the ball down the right hand side of the box for Johnson to chase.

His low cross into the six-yard box came off Elmohamady, with Nmecha claiming a slight touch as it went over the line.

Nmecha wasn't far away with a low shot from the edge of the box which travelled inches past the far post, Gallagher's pass setting him up.

PNE hit the woodwork for the second time in the contest in the 68th minute, Barkhuizen beating Nyland to a long ball over the top and taking it around him.

That forced him wide and from a narrow angle his shot hit the near post, Barkhuizen blazing his follow-up shot wildly into the crowd with Nmecha wanting a pass in the middle.

Villa almost snatched a winner in the 89th minute when substitute Birkir Bjarnason somehow scooped a shot over the bar from two yards out at the far post.

Had that gone in it would have been harsh on Preston who were well worth their point.

In the closing stages, 17-year-old O'Reilly and Walker, 16, joined the action to help see the game out.

PNE: Rudd, Clarke (Fisher 85), Storey, Huntington, Hughes, Ledson, Johnson, Barkhuizen, Burke (O'Reilly 89), Gallagher (Walker 90), Nmecha. Subs (not used): Woods, Simpson, Baxter, Crowe.

Villa: Nyland, Elmohamady, Chester, Hutton, Whelan (Bjarnason 75), Hourihane, McGinn, El Ghazi, Bolasie (Adomah 68), Abraham. Subs (not used): Hogan, Davis, Kodja, Revan, Bunn.

Referee: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham)

Attendance: 19,126 (5,629 away)