North End made it five wins in a row at Deepdale as they ran out 3-1 winners thanks to goals from John Welsh, Paul Gallagher and Neil Kilkenny, with Gills top scorer Cody McDonald getting their solitary strike.
North End were in front inside the opening ten minutes when skipper John Welsh finished off a fantastic four man passing move from 12 yards out for his first goal of the season, however, a slackening of the pace allowed the visitors to equalise in the final minute of the first half, McDonald firing home from to the right of the penalty spot to send the game into the break level.
But after the break it was all North End as Gallagher made it four in two home games and Kilkenny scored with his first touch of the ball after coming on as a substitute to make it five consecutive home wins.
Manager Simon Grayson put top scorer Joe Garner back into the starting XI, replacing Kevin Davies, whilst Keith Keane played right back, with Tom Clarke ruled out.
The Lilywhites started brilliantly with some slick passing football and went in front on eight minutes. It was great football and Joe Garner worked the ball out to Paul Gallagher, who in turn played the ball into the path of Stuart Beavon, who’d made a clever run inside his defender. He laid it back for skipper John Welsh, who fired home with the outside of his right foot from 12 yards out.
It could have been two on 17 minutes as Paul Gallagher went through on goal in a left hand channel, his right footed shot with his instep went inches wide of the right hand post with Gills’ keeper Stuart Nelson beaten from the edge of the box.
With ten minutes left in the half Lee Holmes was sent through by John Welsh; the No.11 beat his man, held another off and slotted seemingly past the keeper, but Nelson got a brilliant last touch to turn it just round the post for a corner.
From the second of two quick corners North End were denied probably the clearest penalty of the season so far as Chris Whelpdale stopped a cross from Paul Gallagher with two hands. The ball was going to John Welsh three yards out unmarked – but referee Charles Breakspear seemed not to have seen it, but his linesman on the Invincibles side had a perfect view and somehow failed to bring his flag to his chest leaving the stadium aghast.
And up the other end the visitors took advantage. A free kick from the left for Gillingham was not cleared by North End and it was headed back into the box for unmarked Cody McDonald who smashed home in the right hand channel ten yards out for his 17th of the season.
North End were back in from on 57 minutes. The ball was well-worked on the right by Stuart Beavon who back-heeled to Lee Holmes; he turned it into Keith Keane who pulled the ball back to Paul Gallagher 25 yards out, who took a touch and whipped a shot across into the bottom left hand corner, the exact spot his free kick had ended up the previous week.
It was 3-1 five minutes later. There was a double substitution with Alan Browne and Lee Holmes replaced by Neil Kilkenny and Chris Humphrey and an immediate impact. Paul Gallagher did well to work space by the left hand corner flag and played a ball into Joe Garner. His shot from 15 yards out took a deflection, but Kilkenny had gambled at the back post and poked in from a yard out with his first touch.
John Welsh, already with one in his locker was inches away from a second of the game and the season with 20 minutes left, firing after a good passing move, from the edge of the ‘D’, the drilled effort taking a slight deflection to take it just past the left hand post.
Paul Gallagher had a chance to make it four after Chris Humphrey had collected the ball on the right, driven inside and played a ball across to the No.12. He checked inside, but his low shot didn’t have enough power to beat Nelson, who saved low to his left.
The Lilywhites pushed to increase their lead with substitute Craig Davies twice denied by Leon Legge, but it remained 3-1.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Keane, Laird, Welsh, King, Wright, Holmes (Humphrey, 62), Browne (Kilkenny, 62), Garner (C Davies, 75), Beavon, Gallagher. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Huntington, K Davies, Buchanan.
Gillingham line-up: Nelson, Martin, Legge, Whelpdale (Weston, 58), McDonald, Gregory, Lee (Akinfenwa, 70), Smith, Barrett, Hewitt, Hessenthaler (Dack, 79). Subs not used: Linganzi, Harriman, Fagan, Baxter.
Attendance: 11,591 (323 away fans)
Referee: Mr C Breakspear