PNE overcame ten man Walsall with Bailey Wright grabbing the winning goal, with his third of the season.
North End took a fortuitous lead after only three minutes, Paul Downing turning into his own net from the edge of his box, but the Saddlers responded immediately, capitalising on a North End mistake at the back, to level through Sam Mantom within 60 seconds.
Bailey Wright restored the Lilywhites lead just before the half hour mark, heading home Paul Gallagher’s left wing free kick. Sam Mantom was sent off late on as the Lilywhites held on for a vital win.
PNE manager Simon Grayson named the same 18 as lined up against Rotherham four days earlier, with skipper John Welsh still out through injury.
The game got off to a blistering start and the home fans were up out of their seats in the third minute, as North End put pressure on the visitors defence and Paul Downing overhit a first time back pass to Richard O’Donnell that went past the Saddlers No.1 and, despite his scrambling effort, crossed the line, seen by the eagle-eyed linesman, giving the home side an early lead.
However, that joy was short-lived as Dean Smith’s side were back level within 60 seconds. Some poor play at the back by North End allowed Nicky Featherstone to get in a snap shot that Declan Rudd could only punch back out to the edge of the box where Sam Manton fired first time back into the bottom left hand corner from 18 yards.
The game was extremely scrappy after the early flurry of activity, but just past the mid-way point PNE started to get into the game. A Paul Gallagher outswinging corner was met by a stooping header from top scorer Joe Garner; but O’Donnell was up to it, tipping the ball round the post for another corner from out of the bottom right hand corner.
And on 28 minutes the lead was restored. Joe Garner was flattened – not for the first time in the afternoon – and this time Paul Gallagher’s delivery from the left found the head of Aussie centre half and Bailey Wright, who headed down and into the left hand corner past O’Donnell.
The visitors didn’t lie down, however, and had a great chance for a leveller ten minutes later after Febian Brandy played a one-two with Featherstone, who got in behind the North End defence and toe-poked past Rudd, but luckily it also went just past the right hand post from eight yards outs.
Right on the interval it was almost three and skipper Keith Keane, whose work-rate has been tremendous in the middle of the park, got in behind the Walsall back line after brilliant winning of ball and then one-two with Kilkenny. His shot, on the half volley, was fired towards the top left corner; but O’Donnell adjusted his position and managed to get a strong hand to deny North End another.
On 49 minutes Craig Davies almost made it three twice in the space of ten seconds. Firstly a ball in behind the Walsall defence found him and he stopped, dragged it back and fired hard and low, Richard O’Donnell’s back leg only just denying him a goal, but the ball immediately came back into the box and Joe Garner got up, headed the ball down and Davies dived low to stick his head in, only for Butler to make a fine block and deny a goal.
The front man again forced O’Donnell into a fine save on 64 minutes, a 25 yard drive with the outside of his right boot tipped over by the Saddlers custodian for a corner.
Sam Mantom was given a straight red card with eight minutes to go after a late crunching tackle on Joe Garner, that left the front man needing treatment, no arguments at the decision.
Substitute Stuart Beavon had a chance in the 89th minute to kill the game off, but after driving through a left hand channel, he just couldn’t get the ball across or a shot in and O’Donnell smothered.
Six minutes were added on by the match official, much to the amazement of everyone in the ground.
Declan Rudd kept the scores level in the third minute of stoppage time to somehow get fingertips onto substitute James Baxendale’s shot and North End held on to end an emotional week with three points.
: Rudd, Wiseman, Laird, Keane, Clarke, Wright, Humphrey (King, 90), Kilkenny (Brownhill, 66), Garner (Beavon, 87), C Davies, Gallagher. Subs not used: Stuckmann, K Davies, Holmes, Buchanan.PNE line-up
: O’Donnell, Butler, Featherstone (Sawyers, 66), A Chambers, Mantom, Lalkovic (Ngoo, 81), Westcarr, Downing, Benning, J Chambers, Brandy (Baxendale, 66). Subs not used: Purkiss, Roberts, Hewitt, McQuilkin.Walsall line-up
: 10,034 (411 away fans)Attendance
: Mr S StockbridgeReferee