A controversial late penalty for Sheffield United earned them a place in the last 16 of the Emirates FA Cup at Bramall Lane.
Blades skipper Billy Sharp was harshly adjudged to have been fouled by opposition captain Tom Clarke ten minutes from time, before himself getting up to fire past Declan Rudd for the only goal of the game.
In reality it was game that seemed destined for a goalless draw and a replay, with neither side forcing their opponent’s goalkeeper into too many saves until the decision made by match official Graham Scott.
The two teams had made a combined 15 changes from their previous respective league games and for the Lilywhites that meant a return from injury of Darnell Fisher and a first start for Louis Moult.
And it was right back Fisher who created the first and perhaps best chance of the first half, making a driving run five minutes in right at the heart of the United defence, before finding Alan Browne 25 yards from goal. The No.8 moved the ball to create space and drove an effort goalwards, but dragged it wide of the left hand post.
The home side failed to create anything in the first half, but began the second brightly. A Mark Duffy cross from the right hand side found striker Clayton Donaldson, who fired hard and low, but his shot flashed just past the right hand post.
Another chance came for Chris Wilder’s side just six minutes later as again Duffy put over a cross from the right. Daniel Lafferty had a shot on the run from 15 yards out, which forced a brilliant save from Declan Rudd to tip over the bar.
Twelve minutes from time Daniel Johnson collected the ball 30 yards out, cut inside on the right hand edge of the box and drilled a left foot shot past Simon Moore in the Blades goal, but it also flew just past the outside of the left hand post.
But with 11 minutes left on the clock the defining moment came. Sharp received the ball in the box and was moving away from goal. Clarke stretched out a leg, where photos and video clearly showed he got a foot on the ball, but referee Scott, who was behind the incident pointed to the spot, much to the displeasure of North End’s skipper, and perhaps surprisingly given the assistant on the side of the tackle gave a corner.
Sharp got up and fired right footed hard and low into the bottom right hand corner of the net, giving Rudd no chance.
With Jordan Hugill and Tom Barkhuizen in the action, adding to the attacking options of Alex Neil’s side the visitors pushed for an equaliser. With three minutes to go Browne saw a shot from 25 yards tipped around the post by Moore.
And then in the last minute of normal time Moore was again called into the action, saving from Hugill, who had volleyed Barkhuizen’s acrobatic overhead kick cross to the penalty spot, towards the goal, put too close to the Sheffield United goalkeeper.
Sheffield United line-up: Moore, Baldock, Fleck, Lundstram, Sharp (c) (Stevens, 90), Donaldson (Evans, 59), Wright, Stearman, Duffy, Henegan (Basham, 59), Lafferty. Subs not used: O’Connell, Wilson, Eastwood, Carruthers.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Fisher (Woods, 69), Earl, Welsh (Hugill, 69), Clarke (c), Huntington, Bodin, Johnson, Moult, Browne, Horgan (Barkhuizen, 59). Subs not used: Maxwell, Gallagher, Spurr, Robinson.
Attendance: 15,680 (2,659 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr G Scott