An injury-time goal from Louis Moult gave ten-man North End all three points to finish the season on a high at Deepdale.
The January transfer window signing grabbed his first goal in PR1, collecting and finishing Ben Pearson’s squared ball after the Lilywhites had played much of the second half with ten men, following Billy Bodin receiving a second yellow card.
Callum Robinson had given Alex Neil’s men the first half lead with a close range header, connecting with Paul Huntington’s own headed effort from a Josh Harrop corner, only for Hope Akpan to give the Brewers hope of pulling clear of the relegation places with a curling effort from 18 yards.
The results elsewhere meant that Burton, who threw men forward in injury time, that left the space in behind for North End to grab the winner, were sadly relegated to League One, with Bolton Wanderers surviving on the final day.
The game itself started amid plenty of tension and it was mid-way through the first half before a real chance came along; Declan Rudd making the first of a few fine saves on the afternoon after Marvin Sordell had capitalised on a slip at the back to go one-on-one with the PNE No.1, who smothered the ball out for a corner.
Up the other end Burton’s experienced ’keeper Stephen Bywater made a fantastic stop to deny PNE an opener on 25 minutes, coming out to smother at the feet of Robinson, who had burst clear and into the edge of the box, but this only delayed the opener by seconds.
A minute later and Robinson wasn’t to be denied this time as Harrop swung over a pacy corner into the penalty area, which was met by Huntington with a header that put the ball into the mixer and North End’s No.37 pounced inside the six yard box to nod home.
Within ten minutes it could have been 3-0. Firstly Robinson again broke, this time down the right hand side and pulled the ball across from Sean Maguire, who on the stretch smashed the ball left footed against the bar and came down on the wrong side of the line and was scrambled away.
And the ball was in the net again ten minutes before the break as yet again Robinson put over a quality delivery, this time from the left and it was touched slightly by Bodin to divert it home. Referee Andy Madley had given the goal, but after consulting his assistant decided it had been put in by the Welsh winger’s hand and duly booked him.
The Lilywhites pressure before the interval continued and Robinson collected Harrop’s pass on the left and tried to pull the ball back for Bodin, only for Flanagan to make a block and push the ball out for a corner.
Darnell Fisher went on a marauding run through five men and was upended 20 yards from goal in a right hand channel and from the resulting free kick Bodin took the free kick which was up and over the wall, but also over the bar.
However, five minutes into the second half the game changed as Bodin was adjudged to have gone down easily under a challenge a and again Mr Madley produced a yellow card and sent the No.39 down the tunnel.
Despite going down to ten men it was Alex Neil’s men who continued to look the most threatening, as Maguire raced down the right to get past a defender and into the box, but his pull back could only find Bywater.
And they were made to pay for the profligacy in front of goal 18 minutes into the second half as Akpan collected a ball that had failed to be properly cleared from a corner, on the edge of the box and curled the ball left footed into the top left hand corner of the goal. At this point the away end was full of voice as results elsewhere meant they were staying in the division.
And shortly after it nearly got even better as substitute Darren Bent got on the end of Albion skipper John Brayford’s cross and powered a header towards the top left hand corner, only for Rudd at full stretch to claw the ball out of the corner and behind for a corner.
The pressure was coming from the visitors as this stage and Fisher was needed to head over the bar from Tom Naylor’s header goalwards after Sordell’s corner – a goal preventing stop.
But as results changed elsewhere and Burton gambled, throwing men forward, the tide turned and the chances all started coming in front of the sold out Town End, as North End took a grip on the game,
Paul Gallagher, Moult and Tom Barkhuizen had come and they were all heavily involved in the last 20 minutes. Gallagher firstly saw a shot from 25 yards palmed around the post by Bywater and from the resulting corner the No.12 took himself, he headed inches past the left hand post.
Five minutes from normal time the home side then had strong appeals for a penalty turned down for a foul on Barkhuizen by Naylor as he looked to have got free in the box.
Back-to-back free kicks from very similar positions saw Gallagher from 25 yards shoot on target with the first, Bywater grabbing the effort in front of the top right hand corner of the goal and then the experienced PNE man whipped a second from virtually the same spot across the goal, missing the left hand upright by a fraction of an inch.
Five minutes of injury time was indicated and it was a frantic affair where the Lilywhites could easily have scored three or four goals. Firstly a five man break saw Robinson get space only to divert into the side netting and then moments later he was through again, only to be denied by the Brewers’ No.1.
But three minutes into the added on time the winner came. Ben Pearson showed his energy in the powerful afternoon sun to break with pace down the left, drawing Bywater and a defender to him before sliding the ball across to Moult, who took a took and slid the ball coolly into the bottom right hand corner.
It was a goal celebrated wildly by the North End fans, even though they knew elsewhere that Derby had got the result they needed, but it was a cruel way for it to end for Burton Albion. The final whistle brought a recognition of the progress of the team, with the bumper crowd hanging around to salute their heroes for one last time in 2017/18 and it was nothing more than they deserved after a season that had ended with four wins and a draw in their last five games.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Fisher, Cunningham, Pearson, Clarke (c), Huntington, Bodin, Browne (Moult, 82), Maguire (Barkhuizen, 59), Harrop (Gallagher, 69), Robinson. Subs not used: Maxwell, Johnson, Spurr, Earl.
Burton Albion line-up: Bywater, Brayford (c), McFadzean, Murphy, Akins, Flanagan (Dyer, 75), Naylor, Sordell, Davenport (Bent, 61), Akpan, Boyce. Subs not used: Campbell, Allen, Samuelsen, Buxton, Sbarra.
Attendance: 17,058 (1,969 Burton Albion fans)
Referee: Mr A Madley