A brace from top scorer Joe Garner gave North End three vital points against Tranmere Rovers at a sodden Prenton Park.
The Lilywhites took the lead in the 18th minute, as Joe Garner met Craig Davies’ left wing cross, but the home side equalised on the stroke of half-time, defender Ash Taylor poking home from close range after Ryan Lowe’s pull back from the byline on the right hand side.
But after weathering a storm right at the start of the second half, Garner burst onto a break from Scott Wiseman to fire low into the bottom left hand corner to send the vocal away following delirious on the Wirral.
It was a cold, wet day in Birkenhead, with a heavy and sandy pitch and North End boss Simon Grayson chose to freshen up his side, making five changes to the side from the Cup clash with Forest; Gallagher, Garner, Laird and Craig Davies starting, as well as Jack King, in for the injured Tom Clarke.
The North End fans were still flooding in as the game kicked off and were in full voice and saw their side start at a very high tempo.
And they joined the yellow clad players with their arms in the air after six minutes as skipper John Welsh seemed to be clearly felled in the Tranmere box by Taylor, but referee David Coote waved play on.
Shortly after Rovers keeper Owain Fon Williams tipped Craig Davies’ 20 yard shot round the post for the first corner of the game as the Lilywhites started strongly.
They had a second strong shout for a penalty on 12 minutes, this time for handball, after a cross by Welsh seemed to be clearly blocked by Taylor’s arm from the left, but again the match official waved away the shouts.
However, the early dominance by the visiting team was converted into a goal 18 minutes in and it was Garner again with his 15th goal of the season.
It was also another header from the in-form front man, his back post effort headed down into bottom left hand corner from Craig Davies’ cross from the left hand touchline to give a scoreline to reflect their early dominance.
Just before the half hour mark the home side keeper showed a touch of real quality to deny Garner a second. Fon Williams turned behind Garner’s flick header for a corner from Laird’s cross from the left. Gallagher’s resulting corner again found Garner with a free header, but it went over bar from ten yards out, the striker acknowledging it was a good opportunity spurned by his reaction.
With nine minutes left of the first period Paul Gallagher sent Davies through, running into a right hand channel; he got into a shooting position, but Matthew Kennedy made an outstanding block to send the ball up and over the bar for a corner.
However, the equaliser came just before half-time. Ronnie Moore had changed the game by bringing on Jason Koumas into the middle of the park and in the final minute of the half he had a 25-yard shot saved by Declan Rudd. PNE had three chances to clear the ball prior to the effort, but eventually the midfielder forced Rudd into a save at full stretch.
From the resulting corner the goal came. Tranmere’s top scorer Ryan Lowe picked up the ball down the right from the deep cross from the left and he pulled it back across the six yard box to where centre half Ash Taylor fired home from six yards out into the roof of the net.
The home side started the second half on the front foot and a corner from Koumas was met by Taylor at the back post, but Rudd did well and got a strong punch away.
It was an excellent start to the second period from Rovers and Jason Koumas fired a free kick from the left hand corner of the penalty area with pace and power that came back off the cross bar, leaving the goal frame behind Rudd shaking, but this gave North End a chance to break.
The Lilywhites moved the ball at pace into the midfield for Scott Wiseman; the No.32 then threaded the ball into the right hand channel for Garner, who ran on to the edge of the box and fired low and hard into the bottom left hand corner.
The volume behind the goal from the already raucous away following increased once again in celebration of their hero's 16th goal of the campaign.
Owain Fon Williams was again in brilliant form as he turned away a shot from Craig Davies after a mistake by Stephen Arthurworrey on 58 minutes. A brace of corners followed and from the second both Jack King and Joe Garner had efforts at goal cleared off the line by two last ditch blocks from Tranmere defenders.
Declan Rudd was needed again to block a cross-cum-shot from Ridehalgh and from the resulting corner Ryan Lowe found the side-netting after swivelling and shooting from the right hand corner of the six yard box.
Rudd again was PNE’s saviour on 78 minutes as Lowe breached the offside trap latching onto Koumas’ through ball, but the on loan keeper did brilliantly to come out and smother the shot of the League One's joint top scorer.
Joe Garner and Craig Davies both saw shots blocked as North End looked for a third, before substitute Kevin Davies won a corner that found Bailey Wright, who headed down for Jack King, but Fon Williams did superbly yet again - to get in front of the PNE centre half and claim at the second attempt.
Four minutes of time was added on by the match official in the second period, in the second of which Joe Garner was put in by Kevin Davies, only for Fon Williams to again be his nemesis with an excellent low save to his left, as North End held on for a vital win.
: Fon Williams, Taylor, Wallace, Lowe, Cassidy, Kirby (Koumas, 28), Jennings, Kennedy (Robinson, 82), Ridehalgh, Pennington, Arthurworrey. Subs not used: Holmes, Goodison, Stockton, Power, Mooney.Tranmere Rovers line-up
: Rudd, Wiseman, Laird, Kilkenny, King, Wright, Keane, Welsh, C Davies (Humphrey, 82), Garner, Gallagher (K Davies, 71). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Beavon, Holmes, Buchanan, Hume.PNE line-up
: 5,895 (1,797 away fans)Attendance
: Mr D CooteReferee