A second half penalty from Michael Smith ended North End’s unbeaten run as Swindon ran out 1-0 winners at the County Ground.
Smith scored for the Robins from the penalty spot ten minutes into the second half after Neil Kilkenny had upended Ben Gladwin.
Manager Simon Grayson went with an unchanged 18 from the goalless draw with Sheffield United, with Josh Brownhill again partnering Neil Kilkenny in the centre of the Lilywhites’ midfield.
The game was a slow burner, but it was North End who forced the first save of the game, Wes Foderingham getting a hand up to turn Paul Gallagher’s dipping shot, from the left hand corner of the box, over the cross bar for the first corner of the game.
Just after the quarter hour mark Joe Garner tried a cheeky chip from 15 yards out in the right corner of the box and it ended up just over the bar and onto roof of net, after driving run from Chris Humphrey down the right had created the space for the frontman.
On 19 minutes Craig Davies saw a shot blocked by Robins centre half Troy Archibald-Henville, the defender doing well to get in the way of the on loan man in a left hand channel.
On the half hour mark Declan Rudd was called into action for the first time to deny Miles Storey one-on-one. Neil Kilkenny had given the ball away in the middle of the park and Swindon broke, Massimo Luongo good squaring the ball just outside the box to find Storey, but Rudd saved the forward’s shot with his feet with the ball heading for the bottom right corner until the keeper’s intervention.
Two minutes later a cross from left back David Buchanan was met by Joe Garner with a downward header, forcing a great save from Wes Foderingham, who had just pushed the ball away from Craig Davies after Kilkenny’s lofted through ball for the frontman.
The home side started the second half brightly and Yaser Kasim forced an excellent low save from Declan Rudd after his curling effort came through a crowd of players after corner had not been fully cleared.
The same man was inches away from breaking the deadlock when another corner found its way through to him at the back post, his drive – again through a crowd – evaded everyone and was just wide of the left hand post.
It was a very positive and front foot start to the second period by the home side who won a lot of second balls and were pressing the yellow-clad Lilywhites back into their own half.
And the home side were awarded a penalty on 55 minutes when Neil Kilkenny brought down Ben Gladwin. Michael Smith stepped up and sent Declan Rudd the wrong way, firing hard into the bottom right hand corner – the goal a result of a dominant opening ten minutes of the second half for Mark Cooper’s side.
Manager Simon Grayson reacted by making a triple change with Kevin Davies, Stuart Beavon and John Welsh introduced for Craig Davies, Joe Garner and Neil Kilkenny – who could have earned a second yellow for the penalty incident, having been booked for a foul in the first half.
The changes saw a reaction from North End as they started to get a foothold in the game again, however, it was Declan Rudd was still the busier of the keepers having to make a fine save from Stephen’s downward header and then watching as Gladwin’s deflected shot looped over him and onto the roof of the net.
Rudd was again the difference just past the mid-point in the half when he did brilliantly to deny Gladwin once again, the midfielder causing all sorts of problems to the North End back line.
Paul Gallagher had a chance to spin and shoot on the penalty spot after Kevin Davies laid the ball off from Stuart Beavon’s knock down as North End moved to three up front.
Paul Gallagher’s cross then turned into a shot with Foderingham tipping the ball behind for a corner before his cross from the corner was well weighted for Tom Clarke, but the centre half couldn’t keep his header down from six yards out.
The home side felt aggrieved that they were not awarded a second penalty with just over ten minutes left when Buchanan collided with Michael Smith at the back post, but referee Iain Williamson waved away the claims of the goalscorer.
Foderingham was the keeper with the work to in the final ten minutes; a fine save from Kevin Davies who had got onto the end of Beavon’s flick to the back post from Buchanan’s left wing cross.
Three minutes of added time was signalled by the fourth official and Kevin Davies was unlucky not to be awarded a penalty as his shirt was almost taken off his back from a free kick as the Lilywhites laid siege to the Swindon goal, but North End could not get a goal.
Swindon Town line-up: Foderingham, N Thompson, Luongo, McEveley, Kasim, Storey, A Smith, M Smith, Gladwin (Rossi-Branco, 89), Stephens, Archibald-Hanville. Subs nots uded: Belford, Reis, Waldon, Barthram, Barker, Reckford.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Wiseman, Buchanan, Kilkenny (Welsh, 59), Clarke, Wright, Humphrey, Brownhill, Garner (Beavon, 59), C Davies (K Davies, 60), Gallagher. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Keane, Holmes, King.
Attendance: 7,570 (545 away fans)
Referee: Mr I Williamson