Three goals in 14 first half minutes gave West Bromwich Albion the points at The Hawthorns.
The hosts scored twice in the space of four minutes, either side of the half hour mark, through Dwight Gayle and strike partner Jay Rodriguez added another before the break.
Gayle completed his hat-trick with a close-range tap-in from a Chris Burnt corner with just less than 20 minutes left, with Callum Robinson scoring in injury-time to pull one back for the Lilywhites.
Manager Alex Neil had made three changes, one of them enforced with the suspension of Ben Pearson, Ryan Ledson coming in, along with Paul Gallagher and Jayden Stockley; Robinson and Sean Maguire on the bench.
And the visitors, backed by a vocal sell-out away following of Gentry supporters, started brightly and were the dominant side in the closing stages, adapting well to the Baggies’ 3-5-2 formation.
They had a chance for an opener on 26 minutes as a free kick was awarded on the right by referee Roger East after foul on Alan Browne and a Gallagher ball in was met by Stockley and then Josh Earl’s follow up – that was heading for the bottom right corner – took a deflection into Johnstone’s hands.
However, within a minute they found themselves behind. A long ball from Chris Brunt, in his own half of the centre circle, found Gayle in behind the PNE defence and he cushioned the ball into the bottom left-hand corner with his right foot.
And on 31 minutes it was two, as the ball was given away in the middle of the pitch and collected by Gayle, who played it to Rodriguez, who in turn found Stefan Johansen, whose shot was blocked, but it fell to Gayle who fires home into the middle of the goal.
Before the third a blow for the visitors as Robinson replaced Gallagher after a Mason Holgate tackle left the North End captain in real pain in his left ankle with a late tackle.
And a minute before the interval the pain was compounded by Albion’s third, when Rodriguez collected Johansen’s miss-hit through ball, finding the striker 12 yards out, the former England man rifling home.
Maguire replaced Stockley at half-time, the Lilywhites’ second change and the period started brightly with an early PNE corner won by Robinson. He delivered twice into the box, but couldn’t force a shot, but seconds later Nmecha did find the No.7 only for Craig Dawson to make a vital block to his goalbound effort.
It was all out attack from the greens in the opening minutes as the favour was returned when Robinson found Nmecha down the right, who broke into the box and hesitated when a first-time ball would have probably found Maguire unmarked in the six yard box, but the eventual cross was blocked by Ahmed Hegazi.
On the hour mark another great chance, as Nmecha showed a clean pair of heels to Kieran Gibbs and then drilled the ball into the six yard box where Robinson slid in at the back post, but couldn’t squeeze the ball inside the post for a goal.
A rare effort from the hosts came with a Gayle free kick on the 70-minute mark, Rudd diving to his left to push the ball two-handed around the post for a corner, however, from that resulting Brunt cross Gayle completed his hat-trick, tapping a ricocheting ball home from close range.
With ten minutes left, Alan Browne, playing in a very advanced position after the break, did superbly in the box to open up space and get a shot away from the edge of the area, but a block by Kyle Bartley denied him a goal that the second half efforts would have deserved.
In the first of two added minutes North End grabbed a goal as Robinson fired home from 12 yards out after Nmecha’s pull back, for his 11th goal of the season, to the delight of the still noisy following packed in the away end, but it was just consolation as the game ended soon after.
WBA line-up: Johnstone, Gibbs (Townsend, 60), Bartley, Johansen, Livermore (Phillips, 70), Brunt (c), Gayle, Rodriguez, Dawson, Hegazi (Adarabioyo, 52), Holgate. Subs not used: Bond, Robson-Kanu, Harper, Murphy.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Fisher, Earl, Ledson, Storey, Davies, Nmecha, Johnson, Stockley (Maguire, 46), Browne (Ginnelly, 86), Gallagher (c) (Robinson, 41). Subs not used: Crowe, Moult, Rafferty, Ginnelly, Huntington.
Attendance: 25,088 (2,752 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr R East