Preston North End ran out 3-1 winners at the Alexandra Stadium to progress into the second round of the Capital One Cup but the result didn’t tell the complete story.
The Alex were very much in the contest until Josh Brownhill sealed the tie with a third goal in the final five minutes.
Preston raced into a 2-0 lead after 13 minutes after Ben Garratt was penalised for a trip on the former Port Vale forward Jordan Hugill to concede a sloppy penalty after just five minutes of play. Hugill picked himself up to confidently slotted home the spot-kick into the roof of the Crewe net. In receiving a back pass from George Ray, Garratt’s heavy touch had taken the ball slightly out of his control and in trying to rectify his mistake, he caught the alert Hugill.
The early pressure continued from the Championship side with Ray and then Jon Guthrie having to clear near post headers before Preston doubled their lead on 13 minutes. Crewe had an opportunity to clear their lines but as the second delivery went in, Nugent seemed to lose his footing and a loose header from Guthrie fell invitingly at the feet of the impressive Will Keane, who swept the ball home past a helpless Garratt.
Crewe had given themselves an almighty task by conceding two avoidable goals in the early stages, but encouragingly they tried to get on the ball and pass it. Billy Bingham when close with a couple of free-kicks from distance and Oliver Turton nearly picked out the run of the midfielder as he broke into the Preston penalty area.
Hugill shot straight at Garratt before he should have made it 3-0 with the simplest of the chances after Neil Kilkenny had rolled possession over to him, but he side footed wastefully wide with the goal at his mercy.
To their great credit, Crewe continued to try and impose their passing game on an impressive opposition and there were spells of really good possession. One of those fine passing moves resulted in our first goal of the season on 36 minutes. Lauri Dalla Valle spun away in the centre of the pitch to find Brad Inman wide on the left. The Australian skipped a challenge before calmly picking out the advanced Adam King and the on-loan midfielder rolled his shot low into the corner of the Jordan Pickford’s goal.
Crewe were very much in the contest again and in truth we didn’t really want the first half whistle, as we had grown into the game and were playing with some restored confidence.
Simon Grayson’s Preston side reappeared for the second period and almost immediately hit the foot of the post through the lively Hugill.
A minute later, Haber could have made it 2-2 but somehow Pickford clawed his downward header out. The big Canadian must have thought he had scored when applying a solid connection to Fox's accurate cross.
Grayson introduced the fresh legs of Chris Humphrey for Bailey Wright before Keane went close again with a fine curling shot that just missed the far post. Humphrey then delivered an excellent cross to the far post that only needed a touch. He also had a deflected shot off Nugent that spun into the air and Garratt had to adjust his feet.
Just after the hour mark, Steve Davis introduced the fresh legs of Ryan Colclough and George Cooper and altered the front three with Lauri Dalla Valle moving into a central position. Inman and Haber made way.
Colclough was cautioned for colliding with Calum Woods close to the touchline before he produced a moment of great skill to reach the by-line and cut back a cross for Cooper who shot just wide.
Cooper also flashed over a shot after a clever one-two with the hard working Bingham. Colclough dragged another effort wide of the target after cutting back across the box before captain David Fox so nearly picked out the run in behind from Dalla Valle but Pickford read the situation well to rush from his line.
Preston still had time to introduce last season’s League One player of the year Joe Garner and he was on the lookout for a goal to kick start his season. Garner flashed a shot over the top of the bar and he was involved in the killer third goal with five minutes left. He went first to try and reach Humphrey’s cross but the ball dropped to Brownhill, who made no mistake with his decisive finish.
Crewe: Garratt, Turton, Nugent, Ray, Guthrie, Fox (c), Bingham, King, Inman (Colclough, 63), Dalla Valle, Haber (Cooper, 63)
Unused Subs: Richards, Atkinson, Saunders, Baillie, Wintle