Goals from Paul Gallagher and Alan Browne gave North End the three points against Port Vale in a competitive tie at Deepdale.
Gallagher gave the Lilywhites the lead three minutes before the interval; firing low past former North Ender Chris Neal into the bottom left hand corner of the Town End goal.
The visitors went down to ten men with 12 minutes left as Stephane Zubar finally received his marching orders having spent the afternoon trying to wind up Joe Garner, before Alan Browne added a second with a deflected shot with seven minutes left to give North End a fifth consecutive win.
Manager Simon Grayson had made three changes from the side that defeated the Valiants in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy 12 days previously, Jamie Jones returning, along with internationals Scott Wiseman and Alan Browne.
The game itself was a slow burner, punctuated in the early stages by refereeing decisions that were questioned by the players and crowd alike.
The most controversial of which came just 12 minutes in when Stephane Zubar visibly booted Joe Garner up in the air off the ball. Everyone saw it but the officials as the on loan defender got away with what was clearly a straight red card offence.
The first good chance came as the game reached the mid-point of the opening half. Some good build up play eventually saw Alan Browne unleash a shot from 25 yards, Zubar stuck out a leg out and deflected it just wide of the post.
Just after the half hour mark Michael O’Connor curled a 25 yard free kick inches past the left hand post after a Kilkenny foul with Vale’s first real attempt.
The game was now in full flow and Joe Garner was inches away from continuing his tremendous run against the visitors, seeing an overhead kick saved; Neal flying to his left to palm the ball around the post for a corner.
Up the other end Mark Marshall ran onto a Ben Williamson flick on and Jones turned the winger’s shot around the post for a corner.
Seven minutes before the break North End could and should have been awarded a penalty. It was a clear handball in the box at the back post after a cross from the left, but somehow it was declined by official Mick Russell, much to the amazement of the home side players and fans.
However, the wait for an opener didn’t last long as on 42 minutes they took a deserved lead. The ball was played into Garner 30 yards out; between him and Neil Kilkenny they dragged it forward into the box where it fell perfectly to Paul Gallagher 17 yards out who cushioned the ball beautifully into the bottom left hand corner.
Right on the 45 minute mark Garner was again fouled by Zubar – it was close to being a penalty again, but the referee gave it right on the line as a free kick!
Gallagher’s effort was going into the top right hand corner, but it came off Chris Lines and went behind for a corner. From Reid’s corner kick Garner flashed a header just wide of the left hand post.
The second half started where it left off for Gallagher, hitting the side-netting with a brilliant half volley in the left hand corner of the box after Garner’s head down from Wiseman’s cross.
The second half in the early stages was all about the officials. Joe Garner was battered from pillar to post but was given nothing, eventually getting booked for what could only be frustration.
Callum Robinson replaced Kyel Reid for the final 20 minutes.
With 12 minutes to go referee Mick Russell finally was given no choice, sending Stephane Zubar off for an off the ball foul on Joe Garner. It could have happened 66 minutes earlier, but eventually got exactly what he deserved for his actions on an afternoon where all the on loan Bournemouth man had done was try to get the man he was marking either injured or sent off!
North End doubled their lead three minutes after the red card; Alan Browne driving forward from midfield and then seeing his 25 yard effort take a deflection wrong-footing Chris Neal and ending up in the bottom left hand corner.
Kevin Davies made his return from injury replacing Garner – who received a standing ovation – with seven minutes left.
North End were rampant in the closing minutes, Chris Humphrey drove at the heart of the Vale defence, beating four men before dragging a shot just wide and then Paul Gallagher fired straight at Chris Neal after Callum Robinson’s pace and skill on the left, but they had to settle for the two and the three points.
PNE line-up: Jones, Wiseman, Buchanan, Kilkenny, Clarke (c), King, Humphrey (Hayhurst, 90), Browne, Garner (K Davies, 83), Gallagher, Reid (Robinson, 70). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Laird, Huntington, Brownhill.
Port Vale line-up: Neal, Yates, Dickinson (c), Duffy (McGivern, 65), Dodds (Daniel, 69), Wiliamson (Moore, 69), Lines, Pope, O’Connor, Marshall, Zubar. Subs not used: Johnson, Birchall, Brown, Streete.
Attendance: 9,381 (612 away fans)
Referee: Mr M Russell