St Ledger 18
IF this season were to be decided by second-half performances, then Argyle would be play-off contenders.
After another slow and lethargic first-half performance in which the Pilgrims trailed 1-0 to a Sean St Ledger header, the introduction of Craig Noone at half-time changed the game and a spirited second-half performance secured a point for Argyle thanks to a Damien Johnson penalty with 20 minutes to go.
Argyle Head Coach Paul Mariner had made two changes from the side beaten 4-3 at Sheffield United seven days previously.
Réda Johnson, who had passed a late fitness test to play the Blades last weekend, had finally succumbed to the groin strain that had been troubling him since the 1-1 draw with Leicester.
Richard Eckersley, signed from Premier League Burnley in midweek, started at right back, allowing Karl Duguid to take his place of the right side of midfield. Captain Carl Fletcher migrated into the centre of defence in place of the injured Réda and up top, Joe Mason replaced Rory Fallon with the big Kiwi still suffering the effects of jetlag after his trip to the Sates to play 30 minutes for his country.
Preston, meanwhile, had made just one change since their 3-0 defeat to Cardiff with new father Richard Chaplow replacing the suspended Paul Coutts in central midfield. Irish international Sean St Ledger kept his place despite spending 90 gruelling minutes marking Adriano and Kaka for Ireland against Brazil on Tuesday evening.
Before kick-off, Home Park faithful paid their respects to Michael Foot, former leader of the Labour party and Argyle fanatic who sadly passed away on Wednesday, aged 96, with a minutes' rapturous applause.
The game sprung into life straight from the kick-off with both sides carving out genuine goal-scoring opportunities in the opening minutes. Firstly, Ross Wallace went close from a superb Jon Parkin cross in the opening minute before at the other end, Jamie Mackie's smart ball in the box was scrambled away by Mawene with Mason lurking behind.
Much like in the first-half at Deepdale, it was Preston who were dominating possession and they had another chance go ahead after 11 minutes when midfielder Matt James' shot from the corner of the six yard box was kept out by the advancing Stockdale.
But there was nothing he could do on the eve of the 20-minute mark when Ross Wallace' corner was nodded home by Sean St Ledger from the middle of the area.
The Argyle players certainly felt that Stockdale had been impeded by Parkin as he came for the ball but referee Andy Woolmer was having none of it as the Pilgrims trudged back to the halfway line knowing that they would have to come from behind for the sixth consecutive match.
Preston went close again soon after when Wallace's shot trickled wide but it was the Pilgrims who were on the attack next when Johnson just failed to make contact from a Barker header in the area.
Summerfield then went close with a free-kick on the right flank which gave way to a decent spell of possession in the Preston half but try as they might, the home side just could not trouble visiting 'keeper Andy Lonergan until he was forced to tip Mason's bullet header over the bar on the stroke of half-time.
A change was needed and it came after the break in the shape of Craig Noone, on for the unfortunate Summerfield to allow Duguid into the engine room.
The difference in attack was showing instantly with Green shirts permanently camped in the Preston half. Noone was lively on the left and provided a number of decent crosses.
But it was the Clark / Mason combination that almost put the Pilgrims on level terms when the former's cross from deep was met by the latter who headed into the keeper's hands.
Mariner threw his dice again soon after and replaced Clark with Fallon to allow Mason to move right and Fallon to claim the high balls up front.
Argyle continued to apply more pressure, getting some dangerous balls into the box but, much like the first-half, could not find a clear goal scoring opportunity.
Argyle got possibly their best chance of the half when Duguid's half-volley from a Noone cross forced Lonergan to concede the corner that finally gave the Greens their break.
Noone took the corner to near post where Fletcher's shot was handled in the box by Matt James. The referee paused for a minute before confidently pointing to the spot.
Johnson was the man to step up and confidently fired home for his second goal as a Pilgrim to draw Argyle level. Game on.
Despite the set back, Preston were not fazed and defender Mawene could have restored his side's lead had me made proper contact with Parkin's knock-back.
It was now end to end stuff and when Argyle came forward, Home Park roared for them to score, no more than when Noone got the ball and
Fallon had a great chance to score with five minutes to go but with the goal at his mercy, decided to take a touch instead of shoot.
A few promising corners followed before the chance to win the game flashed before Argyle eyes right just before the 90 minutes were up. Finding space with the ball from a clearance,
Noone unleashed a vicious 25 yard drive that cannoned off the woodwork and into the path of Fallon whose header was expertly saved by Lonergan in the Preston goal.
With four minutes injury time on the boad, the noise inside Home Park cranked up a notch as Noone again came forward and was fouled on the edge of the box.
Noone was then the victim of an awful two-footed tackle from Billy Jones which he somehow escaped his marching orders for.
It was to be the last main talking point of the march as the Pilgrims recorded their third 1-1 draw in three home matches.
Argyle (4-4-2): 21 David Stockdale; 23 Richard Eckersley, 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 11 Kári Árnason, 15 Chris Barker; 20 Luke Summerfield (17 Craig Noone h-t), 2 Karl Duguid, 7 Damien Johnson, 6 Chris Clark (14 Rory Fallon 54); 32 Joe Mason, 8 Jamie Mackie. Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu (gk), 10 Bradley Wright-Phillips, 18 Gary Sawyer, 33 Kenny Cooper, 36 Yala Bolasie.
Preston North End (4-4-2): 1 Andy Lonergan; 19 Billy Jones, 5 Youl Mawene, 12 Sean St.Ledger, 20 Tom Williams; 16 Keith Treacy (11 Darren Carter 88), 4 Richard Chaplow, 23 Matt James, 25 Ross Wallace (7 Chris Sedgewick 54); 33 Neil Mellor (9 Chris Brown 71), 26 Jon Parkin. Substitutes (not used): 2 Michael Hart, 6 Neil Collins, 14 Liam Chilvers, 22 Wayne Henderson (gk).
Booked: Mawene 90, Jones 90
Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire)
Attendance: 9, 582 (341 away)