North End demolished Carlisle at Deepdale with Craig Davies grabbing a hat-trick, Stuart Beavon scoring his first goal since September, full debutant Alan Browne getting one and Lee Holmes also on the scoresheet in a 6-1 win.
In an enthralling first half North End took the lead through Beavon, heading home after ten minutes; the lead was doubled by full debutant Browne from close range on 20 minutes, but Madine pulled a goal back with a close range header five minutes before half-time.
However, the second half started with a Lee Holmes goal and was followed by a 25 minute treble as the Lilywhites ran riot against the Cumbrians.
Manager Simon Grayson was forced to make changes, with John Welsh suspended, Chris Humphrey and Scott Wiseman ruled out through injury and then just hours before kick-off top scorer Joe Garner was needed at the hospital for the birth of his new child, meaning only six subs were available to be named.
However, despite the issues the Lilywhites started with a very high tempo and took the lead with a great goal ten minutes in. A free kick was awarded for a foul on Craig Davies and some brilliant quality from Paul Gallagher; he 50 yards out in a right hand channel and delivered the ball to the penalty spot where Stuart Beavon met it and headed down and into the bottom left hand corner.
Five minutes later it was almost two only but for a brilliant one hand save by Carlisle keeper Jordan Pickford. It was again Paul Gallagher who shot, a right-footed drive from left hand corner of the box after Laird’s initial cross was blocked out to him, but Pickford got a hand up and palmed it to safety.
However, he could do nothing to stop the lead being double on 20 minutes. Lee Holmes did brilliantly, picking up the ball 30 yards out and marching round three Carlisle players, before Pickford saves his effort, only for it to fall for Alan Browne on his first start, being on the spot to slot into the empty net from six yards out.
The visitors halved the deficit four minutes before the interval. A deep corner from Danny Redmond was headed home at the back post by Sheffield Wednesday loanee Gary Madine.
There was almost an immediate response from North End as again Gallagher was in the thick of things, shooting into the side netting from the left hand corner of box after a lay off from Craig Davies.
In in the final minute of first half stoppage time Gallagher yet again has a shot from a Beavon pull back from the byline and there were huge shouts for a penalty as the ball was seemingly a clear handball as it went an inch wide from a deflection off Sean O’Hanlon’s outstretched left hand denying the Lilywhites a two-goal cushion at the interval. Match official Mark Haywood was in a good position, but waved away the claims, with Gallagher incensed at the decision.
The second half started perfectly for the Lilywhites as their disappointment at not getting the penalty was soon forgotten. Craig Davies put in a cross from the left and Pickford dropped it with Gallagher squaring it to the right to Kilkenny, who in turn fed it onto Lee Holmes, who slotted it first time into the bottom left hand corner of the empty net to make it 3-1.
The football was now exquisite from North End with some brilliant one touch passing bringing a corner on 54 minutes after Beavon had been denied after a nine man passing move. Gallagher’s corner was met by Clarke, but just wide of the right hand post.
It was 4-1 before the hour mark. Some more sublime play, as North End spread the ball from left to right and back again, eventually seeing Gallagher from the left play the ball into the feet of Beavon 30 yards out. He then fed the onrushing Scott Laird down the left side of the box, who then pulled the ball across to the right of the penalty spot where Craig Davies smashed in a shot that was initially saved by Pickford, but it came back to the front man, who finished off at the second attempt on 57 minutes.
A double change with 15 minutes to go saw Brownhill and Kevin Davies come on for Kilkenny and Beavon and their first duty was to watch as Tom Clarke rose highest from a Paul Gallagher corner to head inches wide into the post holding up the net.
Paul Gallagher was denied for about the fourth time by Pickford with 12 minutes left, after one of the best passing moves of the season, the team zipping the ball around, but it didn’t matter as seconds later it was five as Josh Brownhill was superbly played into the box with a defence splitting ball and he cleverly lifted the ball past Pickford for Craig Davies to fire home from close range for his second of the afternoon.
It seemed like it wasn’t to be Gallagher’s afternoon as he couldn’t quite guide home Kevin Davies’ superb lob to the back post after the move had been set up by some brilliant cheekiness from the loanee No.12.
But it was certainly Craig Davies’ afternoon as the frontman grabbed his hat-trick and North End’s sixth as he lifted the ball over the defender with a header 30 yards from goal, marched on to the edge of the box and blasted a low shot into the bottom corner, celebrating with a booking for taking his shirt off.
Four minutes were added on, but that was just prolonging the agony for the visitors as the Lilywhites picked up their biggest league win of the season.
: Rudd, Keane, Laird, Kilkenny (Brownhill, 74), Clarke (Huntington, 83), King, Holmes, Browne, C Davies, Beavon (K Davies, 74), Gallagher. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Wright, Buchanan.PNE line-up
: Pickford, Chantler, Amoo, Madine, Thirlwell, Potts (Noble, 61), Symington, O’Hanlon, Redmond (Miller, 72), Brown, Chimbonda (Robson, 40). Subs not used: Noble, Fleming, Byrne, Guy, Meppen-Walter.Carlisle United line-up
: 11,428 (1,374 away fans)Attendance
: Mr M HaywoodReferee