PNE 2 Notts County 0
A goal on his debut from Craig Davies and a 14th goal of the season from Joe Garner, from the penalty spot, gave North End three valuable points at Deepdale.
Davies scored just past the hour mark after a spell of concerted pressure by the Lilywhites, turning and powering home from 15 yards, and Garner made it two shortly after from 12 yards, after Davies had been upended inches inside the area.
Manager Simon Grayson handed a debut to deadline day signing Craig Davies, who partnered Joe Garner in attack, with Lee Holmes and David Buchanan also recalled to the side.
The Lilywhites could have had a dream start, Joe Garner scythed down in the first 30 seconds, Paul Gallagher’s free kick in a left hand channel on the edge of the box tipped round the post by County’s veteran keeper Kevin Pilkington, who was only in the side after an illness to the Magpies’ No.1 Bartosz Bialkowski.
New boy Davies forced Pilkington into another fine save just after the quarter hour mark. Lee Holmes clipped the ball into the chest of the Welsh frontman, who, on the turn, fired a left foot drive towards the top left hand corner, but at full stretch the stopper tipped the ball over for a corner.
After a slow start, the visitors came into the game, having plenty of possession and Enoch Showunmi headed just wide of Declan Rudd’s left hand post from Callum McGregor’s right wing cross.
On 25 minutes, some excellent build-up play by PNE saw them pass their way through the Magpies defence. Davies held the ball up; Holmes took it off him, threaded it through Gallagher, who fired an inch past the right hand post from 15 yards out.
Just before the half hour mark skipper John Welsh put in a cross from the left, Joe Garner got up and headed down but against the outside of the left hand post.
Moments later on loan Villa man Jack Grealish went clean through, played in by Showunmi, he was played on side by Scott Wiseman, but shot wide of left hand post with Rudd coming out to close him down.
Shaun Derry’s men continued to press and their captain Alan Sheehan saw a shot deflected an inch past the left hand post as County were dominating possession.
Eleven minutes after the interval it looked like North End were in front as a Holmes corner came over and was headed back into the box by Tom Clark, Craig Davies spun and shot from the edge of the six yard box, but the ball was cleared with PNE players in unison shouting that the ball had crossed the line, only for referee Tony Harrington to allow play to continue.
Two minutes later the County defence was split open by Paul Gallagher, whose lofted ball in found Garner, who controlled and fired low with his left foot, but Pilkington managed to smother it away for a corner with his back leg. PNE took the corner quickly allowing Gallagher to shoot, Pilkington pulling off another wonder save to palm the ball out of the top right hand corner.
On the hour mark the Magpies keeper again denied North End, this time Lee Holmes’ shot from 12 yards out tipped over the bar; the 39-year-old rolling back the years with a superb display.
Paul Gallagher had a snap shot deflected wide on 62 minutes as North End dominated the early stages of the second half; Lee Holmes’ delivery was met by Garner and this time it wasn’t the ‘keeper but Gareth Roberts on the line who headed clear from out of the top left hand corner.
But Pilkington couldn’t do anything about the opener. After a spell of significant pressure Neil Kilkenny played another excellent ball into new man Davies, who controlled, spun and hit a vicious shot in one movement into the top right hand corner from 15 yards out.
North End were then awarded a penalty just four minutes later as Davies burst onto touch from Jack Grealish, who was trying to cut out John Welsh’s ball across to Lee Holmes and Grealish then stretched to win it back and brought down the loanee right on the edge of the box, Tony Harrington immediately pointing to the spot.
Top scorer Joe Garner, whose last penalty in front of the Town End was saved, placed it beautifully into the top right hand corner; Pilkington going the right way, but not able to get near it.
Garner then found the cross bar with a header from Lee Holmes’ right wing cross as Iain Hume replaced Davies, who left the field to a standing ovation on his debut in a lilywhite shirt.
County’s best chance of the half came in the 83rd minute, Callum McGregor, on loan from Celtic, splitting the home defence to find the run of substitute Kwesi Appiah, but his shot with a right foot, one-on-one with Rudd was dragged inches wide of the left hand post.
A goalline scramble in the 90th minute almost brought a third, Pilkington grabbing the ball at the third attempt after Chris Humphrey had shown a clean pair of heels to everyone down the right before pulling the ball back to the edge of the box where David Buchanan’s driven ball in brought about the scramble where Joe Garner was close to a 15th goal of the season.
Four minutes were added on by the officials and four minutes were played, unlike the previous home game, with Simon Grayson’s men comfortably holding on and even almost adding a third, Tom Clarke trying to poke home Joe Garner’s knock down, only for Pilkington to again make a good block, but the whistle followed along with three valuable points.
: Rudd, Wiseman, Buchanan, Kilkenny, Clarke, Wright, Holmes (Keane, 89), Welsh, C Davies (Hume, 78), Garner, Gallagher (Humphrey, 82). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Laird, Beavon, King.PNE line-up
: Pilkington, Sheehan, Smith, Grealish, McGregor, Showunmi (Appiah, 65), Campbell-Ryce, Fotheringham (Mullins, 66), Freeman, Boucaud, Roberts. Subs not used: Tempest, Hollis, Bishop, Andrews.Notts County line-up
: 9,438 (326 away fans)Attendance
: Mr T HarringtonReferee