Notts County had three points snatched away from them on a dramatic opening day encounter with Preston North End. Although ranked as 5/1 outsiders ahead of kick-off, the Magpies gained the lead through Jake Cassidy, who ended the club's 14-year wait for a goal against the Lilywhites, but a late Joe Garner finish meant that County had to settle for a point at Deepdale.
Manager Shaun Derry handed competitive County debuts to seven players, as Roy Carroll, Blair Adams, Alan Smith, Gary Jones, Nicky Wroe, Garry Thompson and Cassidy were all named in the starting 11. One player missing from the squad was on-loan Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Zeli Ismail, who was believed to be carrying an injury that saw him omitted from the team’s final pre-season encounter with CA Osasuna.
Notts lined up in an attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation at Deepdale, spearheaded by Cassidy, with Ronan Murray and Thompson in the wide areas. The trio’s attacking freedom was created by central trio Jones, Smith and Wroe.
Although a good proportion of the visiting supporters were held up due to an accident on the M6, kick-off went ahead at 3pm as planned. As those fans continued to trickle into the away end, Carroll was tested for the first time in the 10th minute.
A sustained period of Preston pressure resulted in a Paul Gallagher corner, which was floated towards Alan Browne eight yards from goal. The midfielder rose well to direct a looping header over Carroll but the Notts number one backtracked to acrobatically touch over with a finger-tip save.
After a bright opening, the Magpies found themselves on the back foot against a direct North End outfit and, on 16, the hosts came close again through Andy Little. A diagonal ball allowed the wideman to find space on the corner of the box and his low shot skidded narrowly wide of the bottom-left corner.
Carroll continued to impress with two more fine stops, first to deny Gallagher’s forceful header with an instinctive parry. Josh Brownhill then drove through a crowd of players from the edge of the box but the former Manchester United custodian reached down to his right to push behind.
On 25, County should have moved in front when a Jones corner fell to Murray inside the six-yard box, only for the striker’s effort to be superbly kept out by home goalkeeper Jamie Jones’ outstretched left hand. Haydn Hollis followed up on the rebound but cleared the bar.
The chance lifted Notts as an attacking threat and the likes of Jones and Smith began to dictate play with the hosts pushed back. As a result, several dangerous crosses were delivered from the wide areas by Wroe and Adams, but well defended by the organised Preston backline.
County were forced into an early substitution due to an injury to Thompson. His replacement on the right was Adam Dawson, who had signed on loan from Leicester City in the build-up to the fixture.
Immediately after the switch, North End threatened again, as Brownhill’s powerful attempt from range was diverted wide by skipper Hayden Mullins’ brave header. The following corner led to a Gallagher cross, which saw Browne rattle the frame of the goal with a thumping header, before Mullins came to the rescue again with a saving block to keep out Little’s rebound strike.
Wroe, against his former club and the run of play, had a fine opportunity to put Notts ahead at the break, when he dispossessed Bailey Wright in the Lilywhites’ half. The midfielder charged into the area and placed wide of the right-hand post.
Carroll reacted again to keep out Joe Garner’s fierce drive during four minutes of first half added time. Hollis also played a part by braving a kick to the head with some unorthodox defending on the ground to nod the ball back to his goalkeeper.
Immediately after the interval, Notts went on the offensive as Adams surged into a pocket of space in the final third. The left-back’s grounded effort lacked accuracy but came within inches of finding Dawson’s outstretched boot at the back post.
The Magpies’ early pressure paid off in the 52nd minute, after the North End defence failed to deal with Mustapha Dumbuya’s long throw towards Cassidy. The striker managed to pick up on the loose ball and, despite the odds being him against him at a tight angle, he rifled unstoppably beyond Jones.
Preston were rattled and County forced mistakes with unrelenting energy in attack, as Wroe, Murray and Cassidy fought for every ball. The home fans grew frustrated but were almost rejuvenated when Garner attempted a 45-yard shot that Carroll only just managed to push behind.
North End remained a big threat but Carroll was in fine form and not only claimed every ball into his box but kept out Brownhill’s driven free-kick with a fisted save. Browne later cut inside from the right to strike over and Little slotted wide of the mark following a breakaway attack.
At times of trouble, the County midfielders hunted in packs to stave off further danger and continued to look dangerous on the counter. With 15 minutes remaining, Murray found Cassidy, who drifted inside from the left and fired wide of the top-right corner.
Although Notts played the clock down sensibly with possession football for large spells, Preston dealt a disappointing blow in the 89th minute, with Garner finally the man to beat Carroll. The Magpies had failed to clear and a quick succession of passes infield from the left flank led to the striker finding the top-left corner with a powerful hit.