Port Vale 0 PNE 2
Joe Garner made it seven goals in five games as the Lilywhites played for 77 minutes with ten men, but earned a vital victory at Vale Park.
The in-form front man scored once in each half, the second from the penalty spot to send over a 1,000 North End fans singing their way back up the M6.
The Lilywhites started with the confidence-fuelled Garner continuing to show his recent form; firing at goal from 30 yards after only 90 seconds, former PNE stopper Chris Neal palming away to safety between the sticks.
Chris Humphrey went on a mazy run fives minutes in, rushing along the edge of the box past three men, before seeing his shot blocked on the penalty spot by Richard Duffy.
The controversy started in the 13th minute. A coming together in midfield, seemingly between Garner and Vale No.9 Jennison Myrie Williams, happened off the ball – players rushed in and after consulting his closest linesman, referee Andy Madley – who also took charge of the Blackpool game – brandished a red card at Neil Kilkenny.
The loan man argued his innocence and the official even went over to chat to his opposite assistant and the fourth official, but the decision stood and the Aussie was sent for an early bath.
Manager Simon Grayson took his time to decide what was needed, but on 25 minutes he withdrew Kevin Davies and brought Keith Keane into the midfield, with Garner up front on his own.
This paid dividends on the half hour mark. The PNE No.14 picked up ball in centre circle from Paul Gallagher’s ball, beat former PNE defender Chris Robertson twice by twisting and turning, and then shot from 25 yards, a dipping effort which flew over Chris Neal and into the middle of the goal to break the deadlock.
The home side almost got level immediately. Chris Robertson tried to make amends with a deep ball and dangerous Valiants' top scorer Tom Pope beat Tom Clarke in the air, but his excellent goalbound header was tipped round the post by a brilliant top draw save from Declan Rudd with left hand at full stretch to tip the ball round the post.
Joe Garner continued to threaten every time he got the ball and four minutes after his goal he was at it again with 25 yard strike, which was this time tipped round the post by Neal after a Gallagher flick into the lone front man’s feet.
Before the break the home side could have been down to ten men too… twice; firstly Chris Robertson was lucky to stay on after what looked like an elbow on Garner – only getting a yellow and then in the five minutes of stoppage time added on Carl Dickinson was only given yellow for pushing over PNE skipper John Welsh.
The home side mande changes to try and change the game, but the first half of the second period saw North End comfortably soaking up what was being thrown at them. One of the substitutes, Gavin Tomlin, brought out a great save from Declan Rudd with 21 minutes to go, the PNE No.23 tipping the ball over the bar.
But with 19 minutes left North End broke from a sustained period of pressure by Micky Adams' men. PNE's own sub Will Hayhurst broke the shackles, running from the edge of his own box; he and Keith Keane raced two on one with a Vale centre half, they exchanged a one-two, with Hayhurst bursting into the box. Chris Neal came out and scythed down the Irish U21 international. The referee pointed straight to the spot, but only cautioned Neal for the foul.
Joe Garner stepped up to take the penalty and slammed it down the middle under the keeper and wheeled away to celebrate in front of the 1,039 PNE fans packed behind the goal, making it seven goals in five games during November.
This took the wind out of the sales of any pressure the home side had been building. The officials added five more minutes on at the end of the game, as per the first half, making it a 100 minute game and 87 of them being played with PNE down to ten men, but even with the additional time North End played it out superbly to earn a rapturous response from the travelling faithful as they moved up to third in the League One table.
: Neal, Yates, Robertson, Dickinson (Tomlin, 63), Dodds, Myrie-Williams, Pope, Lines, Willamson (Hughes, 67), Griffith (Taylor, 46), Duffy. Subs not used: Johnson, Chilvers, Birchall, Hugill.Port Vale line-up
: Rudd, Humphrey (Huntington, 87), Laird, Clarke, King, Wright; Welsh, Kilkenny; Gallagher (Hayhurst, 67), K Davies (Keane, 25), Garner. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Byrom, Buchanan, Hume.PNE line-up
: 5,889 (1,039 away fans)Attendance
: Mr A MadleyReferee