Crawley debutant Lee Fowler scored with a volley with his first touch to give the home side a 2-1 win at the Checkatrade.com Stadium.
Crawley’s opener came with their only shot on target in the first half, Wordsworth bundling home Lewis Young’s cross 17 minutes in.
Paul Huntington looked to have put North End on the front foot after the break as the Lilywhites pressed forward after his equalising header, but with two minutes to go the Fowler fired home into the bottom right hand corner to give the Red Devils the points.
Manager Simon Grayson made four changes to the side that played out a goalless draw at Walsall three days earlier, Daniel Johnson being given his debut in the midfield.
The started brightly for North End, a Kyel Reid cross from left almost deflected into the net on ten minutes, but ending up in the side-netting for the game’s first corner.
Two minutes later a brilliant save from Lewis Price low to his left came the game goalless. Paul Gallagher picked out Reid, who found Josh Brownhill with deft touch, the midfielder’s low strike seemed destined for the bottom right hand corner, but it was well saved by the Welsh stopper.
The lead came on 17 minutes as Crawley score with their first shot on goal - Anthony Wordsworth converting from Lewis Young’s cross from the right from six yards out.
On 38 minutes Kyel Reid picked up the ball in his own half and drove forward 50 yards, shooting goalwards, but straight at Price with Gallagher in a good place on the right.
Just before the interval Sylvan Ebanks-Blake saw a shot blocked and then fired a bicycle kick just over bar from 15 yards out and on the whistle Price claimed well as Brownhill flicked Gallagher’s corner into six yard box.
It was all North End at the start of the second half, moving the ball quickly and substitute Neil Kilkenny getting on the ball and trying to move it wide for Gallagher and Reid.
A Reid corner, won by a positive run from Johnson, 50 minutes saw Huntington head goalwards, only for Price to tip over and from the second cross Clarke could only direct another header wide.
It was all yellow at the start of the half and Gallagher saw a deflected shot go narrowly wide for yet another corner, with PNE camped in the final third of the Red Devils’ half.
And the pressure finally paid dividends 11 minutes in as the latest Gallagher corner was fizzed in to the near post and Paul Huntington rose and powered the ball off the inside of the left hand post and into the back of the net – his sixth of the season.
The pressure continued and Kyel Reid’s ball mid-way through the half from the left was an inch away from Josh Brownhill’s late run as the yellows pushed men forward in numbers.
In a rare moment of action for Sam Johnstone, he made a fine two-handed stop to deny Jimmy Smith from a 19 yard free kick after a foul by Calum Woods.
Chris Humphrey came on and almost had an instant impact, cutting in from the right hand side from Reid’s ball and firing left-footed just wide of the right hand post.
The home side had two chances to take the lead again as Oyebanjo and McLeod missed good opportunities, as North End threw caution to the wind, going 3-4-3 with Kevin Davies introduced, but it was the home side who took the late lead.
Lee Fowler introduced as a substitute volleyed home from the edge of the box after a corner on the left with just two minutes left.
Only three minutes were added on and in the final seconds Lewis Price came and slid through Sylvan Ebanks-Blake but the referee gave a goalkick and the home side held on for the win.
Crawley Town line-up: Price, Oyebanjo, Dickson, Edwards, Smith (Fowler, 77), McLeod, Walsh (c), Young (Bawling, 78), Ward, Wordsworth, Elliott. Subs not used: Bradley, Morgan, Anderson, Tomlin, Dutton.
PNE line-up: Johnstone, Woods, Buchanan (K Davies, 85), Welsh (Kilkenny, 46), Clarke (c), Huntington, Gallagher, Johnson, Ebanks-Blake, Brownhill (Humphrey, 77), Reid. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Laird, Wiseman, K Davies, King.
Attendance: 2,550 (515 away fans)
Referee: Mr J Adcock