County’s 140th founding anniversary was celebrated with a friendly match, and a two-goal triumph, at Edgeley Park against the footballing ‘Invincibles’ of the Victorian era, Preston North End.
In what was a third successive meeting with Championship opponents at Edgeley Park, and the final pre-season assignment for the Hatters ahead of their League Two campaign, Will Collar marked his return from injury by giving County a first-half lead, moments after seeing a penalty saved, before a well-struck Ryan Rydel free-kick made it two with a quarter of an hour or so left.
County took to the field in SK3 for the second time within under 15 hours, and sporting a special commemorative navy blue kit to reflect the club’s 1883 origins as Heaton Norris Rovers. The starting line-up was changed in its entirety from that which had kicked off against Blackburn the night before, with notable replacements, in addition to Collar, including young striker Josh Popoola from the Emerging Talent Programme, as well as Louie Barry and Jayden Richardson, the two most recent arrivals – on season-long loans from Aston Villa and Aberdeen, respectively.
The visitors, fielding a strong side under the management of ex-Hatter Ryan Lowe, began with attacking intent – although County, with four minutes on the clock, earned the afternoon’s first corner, after a promising move culminated in a low Rydel delivery from the left that Bambo Diaby put beyond the near upright.
Seven minutes later, Preston’s inaugural attempt saw Will Keane advance into the box before unleashing a shot towards goal – but Ben Hinchliffe stood firm to punch the effort over.
Around the quarter-hour mark, a penalty was awarded at the Railway End for the second successive day, following Diaby’s trip on Collar. The returning midfielder dusted himself down to take the spot-kick, but, unlike Blackburn’s Zac Gilsenan the previous evening, failed to find the net, as goalkeeper Freddie Woodman dived to his left to parry behind.
Disappointment on Collar’s and County’s part was, however, quickly wiped away, as, from the resulting corner, the midfielder made no mistake by hooking in a half-volley after Fraser Horsfall, at the back post, had headed down Rydel’s delivery from the right.
Three minutes later, the visitors had a goal ruled out for offside, after Ben Woodburn had been set up by Keane and converted past Hinchliffe. Danish attacking midfielder Mads Frøkjær went close when his shot took a deflection off Horsfall and looped narrowly to the left of goal. And both Keane and Frøkjær drilled shots wide from 20 yards in succession, before County could go in at the break a goal to the good.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Collar, 17), Preston 0.
Preston fashioned the first attempt following the resumption, when, a couple of minutes into the new half, Kian Best’s 25-yard free-kick was bundled around the right post by Hinchliffe. And County’s Number One was beaten to the ball in the air by Woodburn, before the ball was scrambled beyond the opposite upright.
Just after the hour-mark, the visitors were playing with half a dozen outfield substitutes – and, as they settled in, Barry split the defence with a telling pass for Callum Camps whose shot rolled narrowly shy of the left post.
Then, with 16 minutes remaining, Camps earned a free-kick on the edge of the Preston area. And Rydel stepped up to unleash it around the wall and past Woodman into the bottom-right corner to double County’s advantage.
An injury to Duane Holmes, with no players left to call up from the bench, saw Preston reduced to 10 men for the final couple of minutes of normal, and eight minutes of added, time – leaving the Hatters to see out proceedings without undue ceremony, save for a couple of further chances.
Substitute Dallas Omoruyi, who in his late cameo against Blackburn had gone close to scoring with a shot that narrowly cleared the crossbar, again had an opportunity to open his account with an effort that fizzed wide of the left post – and Barry, from a position similar to that from which Rydel had scored, fired over a free-kick in the dying seconds.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Collar, 17; Rydel, 74), Preston 0.
Team (3-4-3): Hinchliffe; Knoyle, Horsfall, Touray (Capt.); Richardson (Omoruyi, 84), Collar (Trialist, 46), Camps, Rydel; Popoola (Mee, 46), Powell (McMahon, 84), Barry.
Unused Sub: Jones.
Booked: Powell, Touray.
Man of the Match: Collar.
Attendance: 4,200 (685 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.