Sean Maguire made a dream return from injury to score twice as the Lilywhites came from behind to beat Bolton Wanderers 3-1 and celebrate Gentry Day in style.
The Irishman came off the bench to put North End in front for the first time, before sealing the win with a smart close range finish in injury time.
Phil Parkinson’s side had taken an early lead with defender Mark Beevers poked home from a corner, but Tom Barkhuizen raced down the left after collecting Callum Robinson’s excellent through ball and finished superbly into the bottom right hand corner, in front of the travelling Gentry.
Manager Alex Neil, who promised pre-match to don a bowler hat if the side were victorious, kept good on his press conference statement, wearing the hat in celebration at the final whistle. But before the game he made one change from the side that faced Ipswich Town the previous week, Paul Gallagher in for Louis Moult. Maguire selected amongst the substitutes for the first time since his November operation to reattach his hamstring tendon to the bone.
The yellows started on the front foot and had two great chances to go ahead in the opening ten minutes. Both fell the way of Billy Bodin; the first as he was sent clean through by a clever Alan Browne pass. The No.39 was one-on-one with the keeper, but he got the ball caught behind him and the Ben Alnwick made fine save with his legs to block the ball for a corner.
But the forward had another chance three minutes later, meeting a Gallagher cross from the left with his head, after pressure down the left from Callum Robinson and Greg Cunningham had created the chance to put the ball in the box, but again Alnwick claimed the header low down to his left.
And therefore when the opening goal came on 12 minutes, it was very much against the run of play. Calum Woods had done well to put the ball out off a Bolton man, but referee Peter Bankes pointed to the corner. Filipe Morais put the ball into the box and Dorian Dervite header goalwards, the ball ricocheting out to Beevers, who poked home through a crowd of players.
This was a rare foray forward for the home side, with North End having 70 per cent possession in the first half and it took a brilliant save from Alnwick to keep his side ahead at the interval. Barkhuizen picked up the ball on the left and drove inside and right at the heart of the Wanderers defence, playing a one-two with Robinson before unleashing a shot towards the top left corner, only for the stopper to tip the ball up and over the bar.
But as the yellows came out after the break, the next time the two would come face to face, it would be the North End No.29 who came out on top.
Some excellent forward play saw the ball played up to Robinson, who held it up, turned and then threaded a ball inside the Bolton right back, who was outpaced by Barkhuizen, who travelled into the box and placed the ball past Alnwick and into the bottom right hand corner of the goal for his eighth of the season and his fourth in consecutive away games, right in front of the 4,000 travelling away fans on 53 minutes.
They were close to being ahead before the hour mark. Some brilliant build up play involving four or five players eventually saw Gallagher head forward into the path of Robinson, who drilled a vicious shot from 15 yards, but just over the cross bar.
Maguire was returned to the action on 64 minutes and Josh Harrop also came on shortly after the two would have a huge influence on the final 20 minutes of the game.
With 13 minutes to go a North End corner was somehow kept out when Robinson headed Gallagher’s ball goalwards, but saw it smothered away with Alnwick stranded, but within seconds they were ahead.
Robinson was again involved, collecting the ball down the left hand side, where he had moved to when Maguire had come on. He ran forward into the left hand side of the penalty area, before drilling the ball across the six yard box, where the Irish international nipped in front of David Wheater to drive the ball home from six yards out.
And if that wasn’t already a dream return for the No.24 as his and the Gentry’s day became even better when in the second of four added minutes, Barkhuizen and Harrop combined down the right hand side to slide the ball across to Maguire who calmly stroked the ball into the empty net from eight yards out to send the travelling frozen hordes into raptures and seal the three points.
Bolton Wanderers line-up: Alnwick, Dervite, Beevers, Vela, Karacan (Kirchoff, 64), Ameobi, Robinson, Walker (Le Fondre, 64), Pratley (c) (Wilbraham, 84), Morais, Wheater. Subs not used: Howard, Taylor, Burke, Clough.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Woods (Harrop, 69), Cunningham (c), Pearson, Huntington, Davies, Bodin (Maguire, 64), Gallagher (Earl, 89), Robinson, Browne, Barkhuizen. Subs not used: Maxwell, Johnson, Spurr, Moult.
Attendance: 18,141 (3,947 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr P Bankes