David McGoldrick scored a late winner for Sheffield United, after the Lilywhites had come from 2-0 down at Bramall Lane to level the game.
Goals from Billy Sharp and Chris Basham had given Chris Wilder’s side a two-goal advantage, but Callum Robinson sparked the comeback, with substitute Daniel Johnson levelling matters with seven minutes to go, however, McGoldrick scored late from close range to give the Blades the three points.
Manager Alex Neil had made five changes to the starting XI from the midweek trip to Leeds, Chris Maxwell coming in between the sticks, with Paul Huntington, Paul Gallagher, Andrew Hughes and the returning Ryan Ledson all included in a 3-5-2 formation.
The first half was played very much between the penalty areas, with neither side in total control, but Maxwell or Blades stopper Dean Henderson were not busy.
So, when the opener came on 36 minutes, it was a little out of the blue. It came after a North End break, with Oliver Norwood collecting the ball in the middle of the park, playing the ball down the right behind Ben Davies.
McGoldrick collected the ball, seemingly in an offside position, but it was not flagged by the assistant and the Irish international burst away before putting the ball across into the six-yard box for United skipper to tap home unmarked from close range.
The lead was doubled six minutes into the second half as a free kick was awarded out on the right, Norwood whipped a cross into the box and Basham got up to flick a powerful header across the goal into the top left-hand corner.
The deficit was almost halved within five minutes as a corner from Gallagher on the left was whipped into the box; Tom Clarke got up with a powerful header, only for Henderson to make a fine save, with Jack O’Connell then getting in a last-ditch block to deny the PNE No.5 on the follow up.
North End were the side more likely at this stage and some excellent pressure and forward-running from Alan Browne saw a burst from the midfield, with Robinson played in down the left of the penalty area, he drove a ball across the six-yard box, but O’Connell slid in to deny Tom Barkhuizen.
Johnson was introduced as the pressure continued from the yellows, the No.11 curling an effort from 25 yards just wide of the left post, with another change Brandon Barker heavily involved in the build-up.
And the goal that had been coming arrived with ten minutes to go. It was another well-worked move with Browne driving through the middle to find Barker, who got to the edge of the box, played it out to the right for Darnell Fisher who drilled a ball across the six-yard box for Robinson to slide home from six yards out.
And they were level two minutes later. The pressure continued. Firstly, it was Robinson on the right who pulled the ball back for Barker, he played a one-two with Johnson, before sliding the ball out to Hughes on the left who drilled the ball to the penalty spot where Johnson swept the ball off a defender and past Henderson to make it 2-2.
But the parity only lasted four minutes as Enda Stevens drove down the left-hand side, into the box and then pulled the ball back across the six yard line to where McGoldrick was on hand to slide the ball home.
Six minutes of stoppage time was added as the visitors pressed for another equaliser and in the closing seconds Robinson got space down the left and delivered a cross deep to the back post, but Henderson came to claim with four or five yellow shirts waiting to pounce and the final whistle followed.
Sheffield United line-up: Henderson, Stevens, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham, Sharp (c) (M Johnson, 75), Egan, Norwood, McGoldrick (Stearman, 90), Freeman, Duffy (L Carke, 85). Subs not used: Lundstram, Woodburn, Moore, Washington.
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Clarke (c), Huntington, Davies, Fisher, Hughes, Ledson (Harrop, 90), Gallagher (Johnson, 62), Browne, Robinson, Barkhuizen (Barker, 71). Subs not used: Rudd, Earl, Moult, Burke.
Attendance: 23,857 (658 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr S Duncan