An injury-time header from Aleksandar Mitrovic proved decisive at Deepdale, despite one of the best performances of the season from Alex Neil’s men.
The Lilywhites put in an outstanding, front-foot display that was worth of all three points, let along one, but for the second season in a row, the Serbian striker proved to be a nemesis.
The No.32 had opened the scoring with just over 20 minutes left of the game, sweeping home substitute Cyrus Christie’s right wing cross, only for Sean Maguire to grab his fourth goal in three games since returning from injury, by heading home Alan Browne’s ball in from the right for an equaliser just seven minutes later.
However, in the first minute of injury time, a quickly taken throw in down the left gave the Cottagers a chance to cross into the six yard box and their on loan Newcastle United forward nodded home from close range.
Paul Gallagher and Billy Bodin had both recovered from the injuries that forced them off on Tuesday night, but were on the bench, with Maguire and Daniel Johnson coming into the side.
However, the best of the early chances came from an unlikely source, as Darnell Fisher made a powerful run down the right, exchanging a one-two with Callum Robinson, before unleashing a right-foot drive towards the top right hand corner, forcing Marcus Bettinelli to tip the ball around the post.
Up the other end and some fantastic last ditch defending by Greg Cunningham and Ben Pearson kept out the visitors in a rare foray forward from them in the opening half; Stefan Johnasen had broken down the left, putting a ball across that Cunningham had blocked, but the ball ricocheted off Mitrovic and was heading into the goal, until Pearson lunged forward and somehow blocked the ball.
Declan Rudd was called upon three minutes after the interval, making a stunning save to deny Floyd Ayite, who had unleashed a power-driver from 25 yards towards the top right hand corner.
And it was Fulham who took the lead on 69 minutes. Substitute and Irish international full back Christie drove down the right to the edge of the box and drilled the ball across to eight yards out where Mitrovic swept home giving Rudd no chance.
The home side were not for giving up. Firstly a Robinson corner from the left came out to Calum Woods, who had come on at half-time for skipper Greg Cunningham – who was suffering a tight hamstring, who drilled goalwards, only for the ball to flash through a crowd of players and narrowly wide.
And they were level with 14 minutes left on the clock. The pressure had been building and the ball was worked down through Fulham and out to Browne on the right, who put over a perfect cross for Maguire to rise above Denis Odoi and head down into the bottom right hand corner of the goal, a scrambling Bettinelli unable to claw the ball out.
At that point it looked like there would only be one winner – PNE – with Josh Harrop and Billy Bodin added into the attacking options, but hearts were to be broken in the second of four added minutes.
The Cottagers won a throw in down the left and took it quickly, with the ball thrown into the six yard box to where Mitrovic headed into just about the only spot that North End’s No.1 could not get to, to steal the points back down to the capital.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Fisher, Cunningham (c) (Woods, 46), Pearson, Huntington, Davies, Robinson, Browne, Maguire (Bodin, 83), Johnson (Harrop, , Barkhuizen. Subs not used: Maxwell, Clarke, Horgan, Gallagher.
Fulham line-up: Bettinelli, Fredericks (Christie 67), Sessegnon (Ojo, 83), Odoi, McDonald, Johansen, Cairney (c), Ayite (Piazon, 59), Ream, Targett, Mitrovic. Subs not used: Button, Fonte, Norwood, Kamara.
Attendance: 12,970 (968 Fulham fans)
Referee: Mr S Hooper