A stunning goal by 18-year-old Josh Brownhill gave the Lilywhites three Boxing Day points at Brunton Park.
Brownhill scored the only goal of the game three minutes before half-time with a sweet shot into the top right hand corner from the edge of the ‘D’ after a clever back heel by skipper John Welsh.
And whilst Jack King and Chris Humphrey were denied by brilliant saves from Ben Amos in the home side’s goal, the Lilywhites were comfortable winners, with Declan Rudd rarely tested.
Manager Simon Grayson had chosen to match up the home side’s 4-3-3, with Humphrey and Gallagher flanking Jack King, selected up front; with Neil Kilkenny and David Buchanan also in the starting line-up in central midfield and left back respectively.
It was a slow burner at Brunton Park with the early festive start and it took until 18 minutes for any real effort from either side, Paul Gallagher exchanging a one-two with Josh Brownhill before firing a long range effort from 35 yards that was only a yard over Ben Amos’ bar.
The home side had the ball in the net on 27 minutes, target man Lee Miller heading home from close range, but the flag had gone up well before his effort.
The Lilywhites started to have more of the play the more the game went on and just after the half hour mark a good bit of passing saw Paul Gallagher win the side’s first corner, which he himself took and almost found Tom Clarke at the back post, the ball eventually drifting just over the right back.
Eight minutes before the interval the best bit of play of the game to that point saw some excellent hold up play by Jack King, who fed the ball in behind the Carlisle defence and found an on-rushing Chris Humphrey, whose shot across the face of Amos’ goal was tipped round the post by the keeper.
North End went ahead on 42 minutes; and what a goal!
It was a wonderful team strike as Neil Kilkenny spun the ball out to Gallagher on the left touchline; he touched the ball to Buchanan, who in turn laid it in towards the box for skipper John Welsh on edge. The No.19 played a sublime back heel into the path of 18-year-old Brownhill, who curled a shot from the edge of the ‘D’ into the top right hand corner, giving the keeper no chance.
Four minutes into the second half it looked as if it was going to be two with some brilliant play again by John Welsh, bursting down the right hand side of the box before lifting a perfect cross for the on-rushing King to head down and goalwards, only for Manchester United loanee Amos to make a world class save to palm the ball away – a truly brilliant stop.
The second half was more wide open and Humphrey brought a save from Amos after former North Ender David Amoo had been robbed by Paul Gallagher on the left, the returning No.12’s cross that evaded the run of King, but found Humphrey at the back post.
John Welsh then found himself in the unusual position of being clean through on 57 minutes, driving into space in between the Cumbrians defenders, only for an excellent block by another ex-PNE man Max Ehmer; the corner came in and Amos tipped King’s header over the bar, although the officials gave a goal kick!
If Amos’ save had been good earlier, Declan Rudd showed what he could do to deny Tom Lawrence with ten minutes left, after a ball in from the right by David Amoo; the Lilywhites’ stopper blocking the shot from 12 yards out with his legs, allowing Welsh to hook clear.
Four minutes were added to the 90 minutes by referee Eddie Ilderton, but North End played it out comfortably and took the three points to move back into fourth place in the table.
Carlisle United line-up: Amos, Buaben (Chantler, 70), Amoo, Miller, Thirlwell (Noble, 85), Potts, Berrett, O’Hanlon, Ehmer, Morris (Guy, 79), Lawrence. Subs not used: Roddan, Beck, Fleming, Brough.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Clarke, Buchanan, Kilkenny (Keane, 90), Huntington, Wright, Humphrey (Holmes, 81), Welsh, King, Brownhill, Gallagher (Laird, 83). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Beavon, Monakana, Hume.
Attendance: 7,934 (1,773 away fans)
Referee: Mr E Ilderton