Joe Garner grabbed four goals and Jermaine Beckford one as a rampant North End ended a winless spell against the Railwaymen with a stunning five star display.
Garner scored twice in the opening 25 minutes as North End set off like the proverbial steam train, firing a low shot into the bottom corner and then cushioning a header into the same corner from Paul Gallagher’s cross.
However, Oliver Turton reduced the arears before the interval. But it was one way traffic after half-time, a sublime curling effort completing Garner’s hat-trick, before he poked home after Beckford had hit the post; the No.10 then adding a deserved goal for himself after rounding the Crewe keeper following Kilkenny’s lofted through ball.
Manager Simon Grayson added Jermaine Beckford to the starting XI, replacing Chris Humphrey, who dropped to the bench.
The forward-thinking decision certainly paid dividends in the early stages with North End rampant.
However, the visitors created the first opportunity, Bailey Wright clearing a soft Marcus Haber header off the line at the back post.
This preceded a significant amount of pressure from the Lilywhites. Firstly Paul Gallagher was sent clean through by Daniel Johnson; but Alex keeper Paul Rachubka did well to smother the No.12’s effort in a one-on-one just inside the visiting penalty area.
Only a minutes later, eight into the action, a Gallagher free kick from the right touchline was a brilliantly weighted ball and skipper Tom Clarke was unmarked, only for his header to be just wide of Rachubka’s right hand upright.
A further minute forward and Daniel Johnson careered an effort off the left hand post after some great play; John Welsh played the ball out to Clarke, it came back across to Johnson, who jinked past a defender and unleashed powerful effort which came back off the middle of the post.
North End weren’t disheartened by the chances going a begging, however, and went 1-0 up on 11 minutes. Joe Garner scored it, his 17th of the season, a great ball clipped into him 30 yards out by Scott Laird, the frontman spun and ran towards goal before firing hard and low into the bottom left hand corner from 18 yards out.
The pressure continued and Callum Robinson was played in by Garner on the left; the loan man drilled the ball across and Beckford was inches away from making it 2-0.
But they didn’t have to wait long for that second and again it was that man Garner. This time, it was a header as he caressed a superb ball in from the left by Paul Gallagher back across the Railwayen’s keeper and into the bottom left hand corner.
On the half hour mark Robinson tried his luck from 25 yards, Rachubka palming it wide of the right hand post and from the resulting corner Clarke header down into the path of Beckford who spun and shot, but Anthony Grant blocked on the line and Crewe eventually cleared.
This latest let off was almost the spark the visitors needed and they reduced the arrears - Oliver Turton firing home after a long ball from the right, headed down by Marcus Haber with Turton running on from the right and firing off the glove of Sam Johnstone into the bottom left hand corner.
Referee Chris Kavanagh was getting plenty of questioning calls from the crowd and four minutes before the interval there were a lot of unhappy people in the ground – none more so that Joe Garner who had been hauled down in the box by Tate – a nailed on penalty – but the referee said no for an unfathomable reason.
Just before the interval Johnstone was again called into action, making an excellent low save from Haber, after a ball across the box from the right by Ajose.
On 50 minutes Jermaine Beckford did superbly to hold the ball on the right touchline until space opened up for Daniel Johnson who raced into the box before firing a powerful left footer goalwards, but Rachubka saved well and grabbed the ball at the second attempt.
Five minutes later and somehow it remained 2-1. Johnson raced forward and played a superb ball through for Beckford, who beat the offside trap, and clipped a brilliant ball past Rachubka but somehow Guthrie got back to clear off the line and then it came back to Gallagher who crossed for Garner, but he flashed his header wide.
A real let off a minute later as Crewe broke and Nicky Ajose got into the box and laid it off to Haber who slotted home, however, referee Kavanagh, much-maligned in the first half, this time was cheered as he gave a foul in North End’s favour, much to the 10,000 fans’ relief.
Two minutes after the hour mark and Beckford could have made it three; Callum Robinson fed on the left, pushing the ball into the edge of the six yard box, only for the effort to be dragged just past the left hand post.
But the headlines were written by Joe Garner as he completed his hat-trick with 18 minutes left, Daniel Johnson picked up the ball on the left and cushioned it into Garner on the edge of the box. The frontman flicked it round the side and then checked back onto his right before brilliantly executing a curled effort into the top right hand corner from the edge of the box.
And he made it four for the team and four for himself with the simplest of the afternoon and his 20th of the season. This time he owed everything to Jermaine Beckford. The No.10 went down a left hand channel and held off a defender before beating Rachubka, only for the ball to come back off the post and fall for Garner a foot out to tap home.
It was five only three minutes later as this time Beckford got his deserved goal. This time Johnson raced all the way from the edge of his own box. He got the Alex area, checked back and found Gallagher, who slotted sideways to Kilkenny who lifted a superb ball over the Crewe defence for Beckford to control, round Rachubka and slot into the empty net from a narrow angle, ending a thoroughly convincing and entertaining afternoon at Deepdale.
PNE line-up: Johnstone, Clarke (c), Laird, Welsh (Kilkenny, 76), Wright, Huntington, Beckford, Johnson, Garner, Robinson (Humphrey, 70), Gallagher. Subs not used: Stuckmann, K Davies, Woods, Little, Ebanks-Blake.
Crewe Alexandra line-up: Rachubka, Guthrie, Davis (c), Ray, Turton, Jones (Atkinson, 74), Haber, Ness, Tate (Cooper, 65), Ajose (Ikpeazu, 65), Grant. Subs not used: Dalla Valle, Nolan, Baillie, Stewart.
Attendance: 10,203 (433 away fans)
Referee: Mr C Kavanagh