Jordan Hugill was the match-winner for the second home game in succession as the Lilywhites made it four wins out of five with a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United at Deepdale.
The No.9 volleyed home Callum Robinson’s perfectly weighted left wing cross just before the hour mark as Alex Neil’s side kept the opposition at bay to record their seventh clean sheet in PR1 this campaign.
It was once again no more than they deserved, as the defensive unit, with Ben Pearson patrolling just in front of the back four, kept at bay the in-form strike pairing of Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp in attack for the Blades, despite the first half loss of Darnell Fisher through injury.
The first half saw the two sides almost blunt each other out, but the best of the chances still came the way of the home side.
On 18 minutes PNE moved the ball around beautifully, with Pearson finding Daniel Johnson – who returned to the side in the only change from the win at Burton in place of Alan Browne – and he in turn fed Paul Gallagher, before Robinson found space and drove into the visitors box, whipping a shot towards the top right corner, until Simon Moore tipped the ball over the bar.
Five minutes before the interval the woodwork was the only thing to stand in the way of an opening goal. Jordan Hugill had been tugged back on the edge of the box and referee Tim Robinson, who himself had an excellent game, tried to play advantage, but eventually pulled it back for a free kick right on the left hand corner of the penalty area. Gallagher had the ball laid off to him by Johnson and fired a vicious effort that beat the wall, Moore, but came off the top right corner of the bar and into the travelling United fans.
The second half saw North End on the front foot from the off and they could have been ahead before the opener came. Four minutes after the interval Robinson collected the ball and floated a lovely ball to send Tom Barkhuizen through the middle, he took the ball on, but Moore came out to smother for a corner.
The Pacy forward was threatening though and shortly after he broke from his own half, raced right at the heart of the Sheffield United back line before sliding the ball into Robinson in the left corner of the box who beat Moore but also put his shot just past the outside of the right hand post.
But the opener and what proved to be the eventual winning goal came on 58 minutes.
A throw in from first half substitute Kevin O’Connor found Robinson 40 yards out in a left hand channel. The forward turned and delivered a perfect ball to the back post to where Hugill had drifted off his marked and made a sumptuous connection on the volley back across Moore and into the net, but to the delight of the Lilywhites faithful.
Chances were few and few between after the goal as the home side martialled their opponents, keeping them at arms-length from Chris Maxwell’s goal and if anything the best chance of the remaining time came PNE’s way, when with a minute of normal time to go, Hugill showed some brilliant forward play; holding up the ball up 25 yards out, spinning, and shooting in one movements, the ball deflecting just past the right hand post for a corner.
But it remained 1-0 as Alex Neil’s side made it six unbeaten to move within two points of their opponents in the last of the Play-Off spots.
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Clarke (c), Fisher (O’Connor 28), Pearson, Huntington, Davies, Gallagher (Browne, 78), Johnson, Robinson (Harrop, 78), Hugill, Barkhuizen. Subs not used: Rudd, Boyle, Horgan, Mavididi.
Sheffield United line-up: Moore, Baldock (Lafferty, 58), Stevens, O’Connell, Basham, Lundstram, Clarke, Sharp (c), Carter-Vickers (Donaldson, 69), Stearman, Carruthers (Slater, 74). Subs not used: Blackman, Wright, Lavery, Heneghan.
Attendance: 15,202 (3,850 Sheffield United fans)
Referee: Mr T Robinson