North End picked up three valuable points with a 1-0 home win over Bristol City at Deepdale thanks to Jack King’s first half header.
King gave Simon Grayson's side the lead just after the half hour mark with a stooping header, in with the flying boots on the edge of the six yard box.
The game ended in controversy though as Paul Gallagher and Karleigh Osborne were given straight red cards in injury time.
The manager had been forced to make three changes, Joe Garner suspended, Neil Kilkenny out due to the terms of his loan deal and John Welsh also ruled out. Stuart Beavon, Josh Brownhill and Keith Keane came in, with the latter also taking the captain’s armband.
The Lilywhites started brightly, Gallagher hitting the target inside three minutes, latching onto a Kevin Davies ball, but his effort was also straight at the Robins’ custodian Elliot Parish.
North End won the first corner of the game on ten minutes. Gallagher took it, swinging the ball in from the left, but Brendan Moloney did brilliantly to deflect Bailey Wright’s header over the bar.
On the quarter hour mark Davies found Brownhill in the middle of the City half and the 17-year-old split the visitor’s defence with a slick pass that found Gallagher again, however, for a second time his effort was into the midriff of Parish.
The visitors started to probe away and loanee Simon Gillett was close to opening the scoring with a poked shot just wide of the left hand post after the ball had fortuitously fallen into his path after Bailey Wright had blocked the City top scorer Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ left wing cross.
And the threat from the south west side was illustrated again on 26 minutes, Declan Rudd needed for the first time to make a fine save, blocking former Swindon man Aden Flint’s header from Scott Wagstaff’s right wing corner in front of the Town End.
However, despite these good chances, North End went in front on 32 minutes. PNE were awarded a free kick just inside their own half. Gallagher stayed back to take it and lifted it into the right hand corner of the box, where Tom Clarke beat his man to power an excellent header into the six yard box and Jack King burst and stooped low amongst the flying boots to head home into the bottom right hand corner of the goal.
Three minutes before the interval Gallagher again was unlucky when he had a shot from 25 yards that deflected off the boot of Flint, completely wrong-footing Parish, but it went agonisingly wide of the left hand post. The corner was taken by Gallagher himself and found Bailey Wright at the back post - the Aussie inches away from the top left hand corner with a powerful header.
The second half was a scrappy, tense affair, the shrill of the referee’s whistle more prevalent than chances.
However, with five minutes to go a bit of excellent play by Wagstaff, 25 yards out, gave the former Charlton midfield man a yard of space to whip in a left foot shot with pace; which came flying back off the left corner the cross bar and luckily away to safety.
It was a workmanlike display from the Lilywhites, everyone industrious, epitomised by skipper Keane in the middle of the park.
Four minutes were added on by the officials at the end of the game and in the first of those minutes there was real controvesey as Paul Gallagher and Karleigh Osborne were shown straight red cards after the City centre half appeared to headbut the eye of the North End No.12.
The game continued and Bailey Wright was also booked in the injury time, ruling him out of the Cup tie at Wycombe, but there were no more chances for the visitors and North End held on to retain third place in League One and close the gap on the top two.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Keane, Laird, Clarke, Wright, Humphrey (Huntington, 90), K Davies, Beavon (Hume, 83), Gallagher, King, Brownhill (Byrom, 79). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Buchanan, Monakana, Hayhurst.
Bristol City line-up: Parish, Moloney (Taylor, 84), Williams, Flint, Baldock, Emmanuel-Thomas, Wagstaff, Cunningham (Bryan, 81), Pack, Gillett, Osbourne. Subs not used: Fielding, Wynter, Shorey, Harewood, McLaughlin.
Attendance: 8,803 (384 away fans)
Referee: Mr R Clark