A stunning second half hat-trick by Joe Garner saw the Lilywhites come from behind to beat Graham Alexander’s Fleetwood Town, despite the Cod Army having a half-time lead through goals from Stephen Jordan and a Scott Laird own goal.
The visitors had the lead inside 60 seconds, Jordan heading home Steve Schumacher’s corner and they doubled the lead when Laird turned past Jamie Jones from Antoni Sarcevic’s driven cross.
Garner levelled it up with two superb headers from crosses by Neil Kilkenny and substitute John Welsh and then produced a stunning volley from another sub Kevin Davies’ head down to win it in front of over 13,000 at Deepdale.
Manager Simon Grayson was still without Tom Clarke and Scott Wiseman, meaning the previous fixture’s match-winner Paul Huntington and Scott Laird retained their places, whilst Kyel Reid came in for Chris Humphrey down the right hand side.
The game was 57 seconds old when the Cod Army took the lead. Only two PNE players had touched the ball when Steven Schumacher delivered an outswinging corner from the right to the back post where Stephen Jordan rose highest to head back across goal and into the top right hand corner.
And it was 2-0 on seven minutes as Antoni Sarcevic got away down the right hand side and drove across a shot to the edge of the six yard box to where Scott Laird turned the ball home under pressure from Preston-born midfielder Josh Morris.
The 15th minute was punctuated by a superbly observed applause in memory of 15-year-old Melissa Smith, who sadly passed away playing for local side Cadley FC the previous weekend.
North End eventually began to get a foothold in the game and on 17 minutes their first real chance as Paul Gallagher delivered a free kick from the right, Jack King flashing a header wide of the left hand post.
Shortly after Joe Garner saw a shot from 25 yards ricochet over the bar for a corner and then a Paul Gallagher free kick - after Kyel Reid was brought down – was fired in from 30 yards out, with a great save by Chris Maxwell in the Fleetwood goal.
By the end of the first half the stats showed North End with 70 per cent possession, but the visitors having two goals from one shot on target!
Kevin Davies and John Welsh replaced Kyel Reid and Alan Browne at the interval with the manager looking for an immediate response to the deficit of the opening period.
The Lilywhites were on the front foot from the off with the crowd raising the roof as well and Davies was immediately into the action, his hold up play allowing Gallagher to deliver to the back post for Garner, who just couldn’t keep the ball down to test Maxwell.
A free kick from Gallagher was headed goalwards by Paul Huntington as Nathan Pond cleared off the line. This came as Chris Humphrey came on for Scott Laird with 35 minutes still to go.
On the hour mark North End were back in the game as Neil Kilkenny recycled a corner and crossed for Joe Garner to rise highest and head into the left hand corner.
And within three minutes they were level. A superb ball into the box from John Welsh after another recycled corner and again Garner rose highest and powered a superb header into the top right hand corner.
Right on the mid-point of the half Kevin Davies was brought down on the edge of the box and Paul Gallagher’s viciously struck free kick took a deflection away from the top corner and out for a corner.
Then on 78 minutes the comeback and the hat-trick was complete. A ball from Jack King was headed down by Kevin Davies and then on the volley Garner met the ball sweetly and it flew into the bottom left hand corner.
Five minutes of stoppage time was added on by the match officials., but North End produced some fantastic time management to hold on for the win.
PNE line-up: Jones, Laird (Humphrey, 55), Buchanan, Kilkenny, King, Huntington, Robinson, Browne (Welsh, 46), Garner (c), Gallagher, Reid (K Davies, 46). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Holmes, B Davies, Brownhill.
Fleetwood Town line-up: Maxwell, McLaughlin, Pond (c), Evans (Dobbie, 82), Schumacher, Hughes, Morris (Blair, 72), Sarcevic (McAlinden, 73), Proctor, Jordan, Crainey. Subs not used: Lucas, Roberts, Dobbie, Southern, Haughton.
Attendance: 13,280 (1,488 away fans)
Referee: Mr E Ilderton