Match report: Aston Villa 3 Preston North End 3

Crazy is not a word which did any justice to the finale of Preston North End's draw with Aston Villa.

Wednesday, 3rd October 2018, 11:38 am
Updated Wednesday, 3rd October 2018, 12:43 pm
Ryan Ledson tracks Conor Hourihane
Ryan Ledson tracks Conor Hourihane

An extraordinary second half saw North End fight back from 2-0 down to lead 3-2 with three substitutes - Daniel Johnson, Paul Gallagher and Louis Moult - scoring at Villa Park.

Villa had gone down to 10 men when James Chester was shown a red card for bringing down Lukas Nmecha for the penalty which led to Johnson starting the comeback from the spot.

Alex Neil's men looked on course for their first league win since the opening day but substitute Yannick Bolasie equalised for the home side in the 91st minute.

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PNE boss Alex Neil

They then had the chance to win it in the fifth minute of stoppage-time when Johnson's push on Birkir Bjarnason saw the referee point to the penalty spot for the second time.

But PNE goalkeeper Chris Maxwell dived to save Glenn Whelan's spot kick which was the last kick of the game.

What happened in the second half was in complete contrast to what had happened in the opening 45 minutes.

North End were sluggish and off the pace, it all too easy for Villa to waltz into a 2-0 lead by the 37th minute through goals from Villa front pair Jonathan Kodjia and Tammy Abraham.

Chris Maxwell saves Glenn Whelan's 95th minute penalty

Johnson's introduction at the start of the second half was key to Preston's fightback, the midfielder excelling against his former club.

However, no one could have foreseen how the contest would play out and how thrilling it would turn out to be.

Nmecha and Tom Barkhuizen had come back into the starting XI, Nmecha after a three-game absence with a knee injury and Barkhuizen having been a substitute in the home defeat to West Bromwich.

North End started in a 4-4-2 with Alan Browne on the right and Barkhuizen on the left, Callum Robinson up front with Nmecha.

Lukas Nmecha is fouled by James Chester for PNE's penalty

The opening stages were pretty non-descript with little pattern to the game, Nmecha showing a couple of nice touches and a turn of pace.

But Villa soon began to get a grip on proceedings, prompted by Jack Grealish playing down their left.

It led to an early change of system, Neil switching to a 4-2-3-1 - which asks the question why wasn't that used to start with?

After quarter of an hour, Grealish was allowed to turn and run unchecked through midfield before sending a shot from 20 yards dipping just over the bar.

Daniel Johnson scores from the penalty spot

There was a let-off for North End when Abraham pass played in Kodjia down the right side of the box, his shot from a tight angle going under Maxwell, rolling across goal and out beyond the far post.

PNE's single first-half chance was a header from an off-balance Nmecha which flew well wide, Robinson's cross creating the opening.

Villa went in front in the 26th minute, Ahmed Elmohamady hoisting a cross into the box from the right channel.

Kodjia got himself isolated against Darnell Fisher on the corner of the six-yard box, gave him a bit of a nudge before rising to send a header across goal and into the far corner.

The defending for the second was poor too, Paul Huntington caught trying to shepherd the ball out of play on the touchline.

John McGinn nicked it off him and played in Abraham who was allowed to cut into the box and poke a shot past Maxwell - it was all far too easy.

Johnson replaced Ryan Ledson at the interval and his arrival certainly sparked North End into life, the visitors having someone to get on the ball.

Robinson cut inside along the byline but his shot lacked power at the near post and keeper Mark Bunn was able to block.

The game took an twist which turned into far more when Robinson's pass sent Nmecha clear in the box, the striker going to ground under Chester's challenge from behind.

Referee Darren England pointed to the spot and once the protests had died down, pulled out the red card to dismiss Chester for the professional foul as last man.

Johnson did his usual stuttering run-up and sent Bunn the wrong way from the spot.

Villa took off Abraham and replaced him with defender James Bree as they adjusted to having to play with 10 men.

With PNE on the front foot, Huntington sent a header just over the bar after meeting a Johnson free-kick, then Robinson forced a diving save from Bunn with a curling effort from the edge of the box.

Another Huntington header, again from a DJ delivery, landed on top of the net, before Preston went so close twice in the space of a few seconds.

Nmecha's shot from 20 yards slammed against the foot of the post and as Villa struggled to clear their lines, Johnson's curling shot was pushed behind by the diving Bunn.

North End weren't to be denied though and equalised in the 79th minute.

McGinn's foul on Fisher saw the visitors awarded a free-kick three yards outside the box.

Gallagher whipped it low round the wall, the ball beating Bunn's dive on the line and going in to spark wild celebrations among the travelling PNE supporters.

Those celebrations went up another few notches in the 87th minute when North End took the lead to complete what looked like a stunning comeback.

A corner from the right was delivered with pace by Gallagher into the six-yard box, Moult meeting it with a powerful header into the net.

Cue a dramatic finale which saw Villa grabbed a 91st minute equaliser, Bolasie shooting home from close range after PNE failed twice to clear a corner.

If losing the lead wasn't bad enough, it looked like the point was going to be taken away from North End when Mr England pointed to the spot in the 95th minute when DJ was adjudged to have pushed Bjarnason on the box.

Whelan stepped up and put his penalty low, Maxwell diving to his left to hold it - with him on the floor the final whistle went.

Villa: Bunn, Elmohamady, Tuanzebe, Chester, Hutton, McGinn, Bjarnason, Grealish, Hourihane (Whelan 82), Kodjia (Bolasie 74), Abraham (Bree 56). Subs (not used): Hogan, El Ghazi, Adomah, Nyland.

PNE: Maxwell, Fisher (Moult 82), Huntington, Davies, Hughes, Pearson, Ledson (Johnson 46), Barkhuizen (Gallagher 76), Browne, Robinson, Nmecha. Subs (not used): Earl, Clarke, Burke, Rudd.

Referee: Darren England (Barnsley)

Attendance: 27,331