Notts County made it 19 games unbeaten on the road with a hard-fought point at Deepdale. The Magpies frustrated Preston North End with a resolute showing and fully deserved a share of the spoils.
Preston dictated much of the opening 45 and generated a number of good openings. Akpo Sodje should have scored with a 13th minute header and Bartosz Bialkowski denied Nicky Wroe on multiple occasions.
A rare mistake by the County number one led to the home side’s best opportunity of the half. However, a remarkable, headed clearance by Gary Liddle kept his side on even terms heading into the break.
Notts enjoyed more possession in the second period but were unable to seriously test Steve Simonsen in the home goal. They also managed to restrict Preston’s advances and were good value for the draw.
Notts made three changes to the side that claimed a 2-2 draw with Scunthorpe United the previous Saturday. The scorer of both County goals on that afternoon, Lee Hughes, was named on the bench and Yoann Arquin spearheaded the attack in his place.
Elsewhere, Damion Stewart dropped out of the squad due to a knock, paving the way for Carl Regan to return at right-back, with Liddle shifting inside to partner Dean Leacock at the heart of defence. Jamal Campbell-Ryce, who also suffered an injury in the weekend’s fixture, dropped to the bench and Francois Zoko started on the right side of an attacking trio.
The opening stages of the match saw both outfits create a number of half chances. Preston frontman Stuart Beavon threatened with a volley that was easily gathered by Bartosz Bialkowski and Jeff Hughes cleared the bar with a hopeful punt from distance.
As the action continued at both ends, full-back Scott Laird unleashed a stunning hit from the left, which flew well wide of Bialkowski’s goal. Alan Judge then latched onto a delightful, cross-field pass by Alan Sheehan and got the better of his marker, Laird, but was unfortunate not to find a County player with a teasing left-footed centre.
On 13, the hosts carved out the first real opening of the match, when Laird picked out Akpo Sodje with a pacy delivery. The striker met the cross with a forceful header but was unable to keep his effort down.
Preston’s top-scorer Nicky Wroe was the man to watch and he tested Bialkowski twice in quick succession, first forcing a low save out of the goalkeeper with a stern hit. Bialkowski’s next stop was even better, as he reacted sharply to his left to parry Wroe’s thumping effort, after the midfielder had read Beavon’s weighted knockdown.
The Lilywhites continued to push for the opener and Chris Robertson placed wide of the mark, following nice build-up play involving Laird and Jack King. Neal Bishop was later required to produce a saving challenge on John Welsh, who was set to sweep home Laird’s low centre.
Preston should have taken the lead on 34, when Bialkowski handed possession to Beavon with a poor pass inside his own box. The striker rounded the stopper and fired into an empty goal, only for Liddle to come out of nowhere with one of the finest goal-line clearances you will ever see.
Regan also came to the rescue for the Magpies, as Beavon struck towards inside the right-hand post from the resulting corner. The full-back, in his first appearance in over a month, guarded his post well and prodded the ball clear.
The Magpies were given another scare in the early minutes of the second period, when Jeffrey Monakana picked out King in space. The midfielder’s low finish was superbly tipped around the post by Bialkowski, though a goal would not have stood due to an offside flag.
On 52, Notts came within inches of an opener from a low cross by Jeff Hughes. Made possible by Arquin’s header, the Irishman drove low across goal and evaded Judge’s outstretched foot.
With around half-an-hour remaining, Keith Curle made his first alterations. Lee Hughes and Campbell-Ryce were introduced at the expense of Zoko and Arquin.
Moments after the change, a direct free-kick delivery by Sheehan was not dealt with properly and Judge struck wide of the bottom-left corner. Judge was then unlucky not to find Lee Hughes with a floated delivery that was fisted clear by Simonsen.
At this point, County were seeing the better of the chances. Preston had only looked a danger through two long-range efforts by King, both of which cleared the bar.
Bialkowski confidently claimed everything pumped into his box but was tested by substitute Bailey Wright in the 71st minute. Wright’s low shot was aimed towards the bottom-left corner but the Pole confidently smothered the ball.
Six minutes from time, Judge ended a lengthy midfield battle with a powerful volley that dipped over. At the other end, substitute Lee Holmes’ cross-come-shot was pushed away by Bialkowski, before Sheehan made a saving block to keep out Beavon’s stern strike.
During four minutes of added time, Campbell-Ryce was shown a straight red card for a lunge on Laird, who was eventually stretchered off following a lengthy period of treatment on the touchline. The hosts applied some late pressure, buoyed by their fans, but the Magpies held on in what was the team’s first 0-0 of the season.