Fleetwood Town 0, Preston NE 4
THREE goals in ten second-half minutes sealed a convincing win for Preston as the Cod Army welcomed their team back to Highbury.
Town boss Micky Mellon was left to rue defensive errors, but these are early days with the Blue Square Bet Premier opener at Grimsby still a month away.
A crowd of 1,626 saw Phil Brown’s League One side complete their third victory over local non-league opposition in five days following their weekend wins over Chorley and Bamber Bridge.
As the players emerged from beneath the magnificent Parkside Stand on to a newly-sown pitch, there was a sense of expectation among both sets of fans ahead of an important season, as Town look to clinch promotion to the Football League after a summer spree and North End seek to bounce back up to the Championship after relegation.
All of Town’s eight summer signings were involved and five were in the starting XI, including midfielder Keith Briggs, who captained the side – a role he was familiar with at Kidderminster Harriers.
The Preston side included the former Blackpool defender Clark Carlisle, who is expected to complete a season-long loan moved from Burnley today.
Fleetwood started brightly and a corner from the left after two minutes found Paul Linwood, whose looping header at the back post landed on top of Andreas Arestidou’s net.
Peter Till made his first appearance in a Town shirt, having missed the Partick game on Saturday with a slight hamstring strain, and he soon tested the PNE defence with a free-kick from the right.
Junior Brown was prominent in an attacking role on the opposite flank but his involvement was shortlived as he left the field injured after only 13 minutes, replaced by Sean Clancy.
A sizeable following from Preston were enthused to see their side, containing three trialists, come back strongly.
Neil Mellor, back at the club after a period at Sheffield Wednesday, was denied the best opportunity so far on 21 minutes when he found space down the middle but delayed his shot and an alert Scott Davies was able to race out and deny him.
Last season’s top Town goalscorer Magno Vieira was also having his first outing – like Till, he was not risked last weekend due to a minor knock – and he reminded the crowd of his threat in front of goal.
However, the Brazilian’s firm strike from distance in the 28th minute was just too high. A minute later, ex-York midfielder Till fired a free-kick over the top, and there was early evidence of the developing understanding between Vieira and new striker Richard Brodie when the former Crawley frontman slipped a telling pass through only for the Brazilian to shoot wide from a tight angle.
At the opposite end, Davies fumbled a high ball on 35 minutes but the danger was cleared, then five minutes later the Town keeper dived to tip a strong drive from Danny Mayor wide of the post.
The deadlock was broken as half-time approached. Linwood, assured until that point, got into trouble near the left touchline and Preston skipper Iain Hume capitalised, crossing for Barry Nicolson to swing his right leg and hit a sweet shot to Davies’ left.
Town made three half-time changes and Preston four, and the home side should have equalised soon after the restart.
Arestidou’s clearance punch only reached Till, whose low drive ricocheted off the keeper. Following up, Vieira was just unable to capitalise.
The busy Till was linking up well with his new team-mates and Clancy struck a left-foot shot narrowly wide.
However, the visitors seized control with two Jamie Proctor goals in five minutes as they began to dominate.
Rob Atkinson was put under pressure down the middle and Proctor pounced in the 58th minute as the former Grimsby defender’s back-header for keeper Danzelle St Louis-Hamilton lacked power.
Preston made another raft of changes round the hour-mark and stretched their lead on 63 minutes.
St Louis-Hamilton, again replacing Davies for the second half, had to cope with the sinking sun over the Memorial Stand and was beaten by Proctor’s header from near the edge of the area.
Town’s new keeper could do little about Preston’s fourth in the 68th minute.
Darren Carter, yet to be offered a contract for the coming season, struck a sublime left-foot free-kick to ice the cake for the visitors.
Preston were denied a fifth three minutes later, when George Miller’s header from a corner was cleared off the line.
Town continued to work hard to get on the scoresheet but it was Preston who still looked the more likely to score and St Louis-Hamilton was undoubtedly the busier keeper.
Substitute Danny Rowe had a strong shot parried by Arestidou – the only Preston player to complete the 90 minutes – just before the end but it was his side’s final opportunity as referee Bond blew his whistle seconds afterwards.
All Town’s available players got valuable match time – defenders Shaun Beeley and Atkinson did the full 90 – after their intensive week of training at Stirling University, with their next run-out at AFC Fylde on Saturday.
Fleetwood: Davies (Hamilton 45), Beeley, Edwards (Rowe 70), Brodie (Donnelly 60), Till (Seddon 65), Brown (Clancy 12), Briggs (Wynn 67), McGuire (Hughes 45), Linwood (Cavanagh 45), Atkinson, Vieira (Mangan 60).
PRESTON: Arestidou, McLaughlin (Clucas 45), Morgan (Wright 62), Carlisle (McLean 45), Cooper (Mills 45), Mayor (Russell 58), Barton (Miller 62), Nicholson (Middleton 58), Parry (Carter 62), Hume (Proctor 45), Mellor (McLellan 58).