March would have five games for North End, starting with a local derby and pivotal Play-Off rival. The end of the season was beginning to come into sight and the Lilywhites knew that nothing but points would be enough in every game, with 12 remaining fixtures.
The first fixture in March was a traditional one, with the supporters celebrating the club's annual Gentry Day. Bolton Wanderers won a fan vote to host the occasion and PNE fans travelled in their numbers to remember those associated with the club who are sadly no longer with us. In the spirit of the day, the players on the pitch did not disappoint and gave the travelling support plenty to cheer about.
First blood went to the hosts, Mark Beevers poking home the opening goal of the game form a corner. The Trotters took the lead despite the dominance of PNE and that didn’t change after conceding.
North End’s dominance would prove too much for the hosts just after the break, with Callum Robinson spotting Barkhuizen’s run down the left before slipping through a perfect pass that the winger didn’t have to break stride to stroke into the corner to level the score.
Then came the return of striker Sean Maguire from the bench after a long term injury to ensure the 4,000 PNE fans were sent home happy. A low cross from Robinson on the left found the Irishman as he slid in ahead of David Wheater, giving PNE the lead. The celebrations showed emotions of ecstasy and relief after watching from the sidelines for so long. Maguire was not done there though.
PNE remained a huge creative threat to Wanderers and Josh Harrop’s deflected effort found its way to the feet of Maguire in the middle of the six yard box and there was only one outcome.
Close competition was very evident in the Championship table, and next up was the visit of fellow Play-Off chasers Bristol City. As the Robins travelled to Deepdale on a Tuesday night, the result was the same as in the reverse fixture with the Lilywhites taking all three points once again.
PNE rose to the occasion as the fans got behind the team and helped give the players the extra push that was shown in their brilliant performance.
Alan Browne’s goal of the season show reel gained an extra clip, with Hordur Magnusson scuffing his clearance – which Frank Fielding had intended to collect – Browne lobbed the ball over the pair from 25 yards, the ball curling away from any attempts to prevent the Irish midfielder opening the scoring.
Greg Cunningham nearly doubled the lead with a backwards header directly from a deep Gallagher free kick, only quick reflexes preventing the former City man. Instead it would be the Robins that got the second goal of the game, Bobby Reid creating space to cross for Famara Diedhiou to flick the ball into the far corner.
North End got what they deserve for their renowned tenacity just two and a half minutes later. Daniel Johnson played a first time ball through for Maguire, off the bench again, who raced onto the ball, toyed with the Bristol City defence and calmly slotted the ball into the net. That was all for the goal action but there was drama to follow as Aden Flint also saw red for City late on for raising an arm towards Cunningham.
Few teams, if any, in the country had better form than Fulham after the turn of the New Year and they were the next visitors we welcomed to Deepdale.
The game was a spectacle, on open, attacking game that was based around possession for both sides. The visitors had the first clear chance, Mitrovic seemingly having an open net but for Ben Pearson’s goalline clearance.
But the striker would once again score against the Lilywhites, getting the scoring underway as he hit home Cyrus Christie’s cross form the right. Mitrovic was in stunning form for the Cottagers, but so was Sean Maguire for PNE; and they couldn’t keep him off the scoresheet.
North End recycled possession in the Fulham third and Ben Pearson lifted in a cross that the No.24 met with his head, the ball squirming in at the near post; making it four goals in three games since Maguire’s return from injury.
It wouldn’t prove to be enough to earn the home side a point, as Mitrovic again scored. Fulham took a quick throw-in , allowing just enough time for a cross, which Mitrovic redirected back where it came from and into the corner.
The performance levels remained high in the following game but this time the result was what North End deserved. Another dominating performance saw a professional 2-0 win over struggling Sunderland, as Declan Rudd missed the game to welcome his second child and son. PNE were in control for the whole game but it would be a set piece that broke the deadlock. Paul Gallagher whipped in a cross and Sean Maguire met the ball at the far post, diving in to guide it past Lee Camp.
Matters got worse for the Black Cats as loanee Jake Clarke-Salter was booked for the second time for holding onto Alan Browne who had beaten him in the midfield, and he was shown a red card.
Three minutes later, it would be game over. Barkhuizen lofted a cross in from the right and Robinson nodded the ball home, with PNE comfortably seeing out the rest of the afternoon at the Stadium of Light.
The victory in the North East extended PNE’s away unbeaten run to 11 games but that run came to an end at Hillsborough. There were five goals in the game and all of them came in the second half after PNE had bossed the opening exchanges. A switch in tact from Owls gaffer Jos Luhukay, in bringing on another striker, was evidence of the dominance but it also changed the game.
Five minutes into the second half Jack Hunt put a cross in from the right and Atdhe Nuhiu found the ball arrive at his feet, to which he fired the ball past Declan Rudd and it was 2-0 minutes later as Barry Bannan lofted a long ball forward which half-time substitute Lucas Jaoa looped in to the goal.
North End responded and had chances of their own, with Maguire having an effort cleared off the line, but the introduction of PNE subs would see the deficit halved. Johnson and Moult were brought on by Alex Neil and the pair combined with Johnson driving forward from midfield, playing a one-two with Robinson before playing provider for Moult who finished from close range. The goal Moult's first for the club.
Two more quick fire goals would see the game put out of sight though, both requiring something special. Fernando Forestieri bent home a free kick before Nuhiu curled an effort into the top corner from the edge of the 18 yard box, though the scoreline didn’t reflect the gap between the two sides in Yorkshire.
After returning from injury with five goals in five games, restricted to starts from the bench as he found full fitness, Sean Maguire was nominated for Player of the Month for March. The end of the month saw PNE lying in tenth, but only two points would separate the Lilywhites and fifth placed Derby County, who were sharing their total with Middlesbrough in the final Play-Off spot and Bristol City just outside. Millwall and Sheffield United both sat a point ahead of PNE with just seven games to go.