Paul Huntington grabbed the only goal as North End progressed through to the Northern Final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy with a 1-0 win at Meadow Lane.
Huntington bundled the ball home with his fifth goal in just two months to open the scoring 20 minutes into the opening period.
The home side saw two headers cleared off the line and hit the bar in the same first half attack, but otherwise Roy Carroll was the busier keeper, making numerous fine saves to deny North End making the margin of victory bigger.
Manager Simon Grayson, on his 45th birthday, made five changes to the side that drew with Milton Keynes Dons the previous weekend, with Josh Brownhill, Jack King and Alan Browne making up a three man midfield and Andy Little making his first start since 13th September.
The game started with a bang with the Magpies almost ahead inside 50 seconds, skipper Tom Clarke needed to make a fine block to deny Curtis Thomspon, playing in a forward role as part of a 3-5-2 for Shaun Derry’s men, whose vicious shot was on target.
Hoqwever, the chances then began to fall to PNE. Josh Brownhill certainly had his shooting boots on, twice forcing former PNE trialist Roy Carroll into fine diving stops in the space of four minutes, the latter on 14 minutes getting through the Northern Irish international, but going wide of the right hand post.
But it was the prolific centre half Paul Huntington who grabbed the goal 20 minutes in. Kyel Reid won a corner on the left and then went over to the right to cross. The ball came over and Carroll seemed to lose it as the North End No.23 bundled it home from five yards out at the back post. The goalkeeper was livid, feeling he had been fouled by Jermaine Beckford, but referee Nigel Miller was having none of his complaints.
The goal awakened the home side who then had much the better chances in the second half of the opening period. Firstly on loan Canadian Michael Petrasso rushed from midfield and flashed a shot across goal but wide and then just after the half hour mark an almightly scramble followed a Gary Jones corner with both Andy Little and Alan Browne both heading off the line sandwiching a chance where County skipper Haydn Hollis headed against the bar.
This wake-up call re-ignited the yellows offensively as just before half-time a quick free kick to Browne down right saw the Irishman cross to Beckford; his volley bounced down and Carroll claimed off Brownhill’s head as North End thought a second could be on the cards.
The rain began to fall as the second period got underway And it began with an excellent counter from the Lilywhites as Kyel Reid ran 70 yards before putting Hollis on his behind and forcing Carroll to make a fine save to force his shot away from his near post.
With ten minutes of the half gone a gilt-edged chance fell the way of Jermaine Becford, who had been put through by Alan Browne’s powerful run and threaded ball, but the on loan front man scuffed the shot with Roy Carroll closing him down on the edge of the box, allowing the County No.1 to claim.
The yellows were able to play counter-attacking football and Alan Browne burst from his own half on 58 minutes, holding off three tackles before again Carroll was North End’s nemesis, pushing his shot away to safety after the Irishman’s 15 yard strike.
The home side changed formation on the hour mark to match PNE’s 4-3-3, with striker Ronan Murray replacing centre half Taylor McKenzie.
The home side and their fans thought they were level on 65 minutes as McLaughlin got free in a left hand channel and raced away onto a flick on from Ronan Murray and lofted the ball over Stuckmann, but it fell an inch the wrong side of the post much to the delight of the North End faithful.
The last 25 minutes were fraught, but with very few chances as North End held on to set up a two-legged Northern Final against Walsall in January.
Notts County line-up: Carroll, Adams (Hall, 75), Smith, Hollis (c), G Thompson, Jones, McKenzie (Murray, 60), C Thompson, Edwards, McLaughlin, Petrasso. Subs not used: Pilkington, Traore, Harrad.
PNE line-up: Stuckmann, Wiseman, Laird, King, Clarke (c), Huntington, Little, Browne, Beckford (Humphrey, 75), Brownhill, Reid. Subs not used: Jones, Gallagher, Woods, Welsh.
Attendance: 2,058 (265 away fans)
Referee: Mr N Miller