A 4,623 day wait since David Nugent’s last goal for Preston North End helped the Lilywhites to a superb 2-1 home win over Fulham at Deepdale.
The striker grabbed the all-important second goal seven minutes into the second half, to add to Sean Maguire’s opener midway through the opening period in a thrilling game.
Both sides played the second 45 minutes with ten men as well, with Denis Odoi and Joe Rafferty both seeing red for separate incidents in the first half, but despite a late deflected strike from Aleksandar Mitrović, North End went back into the top six, just a point behind the third-placed Londoners.
Manager Alex Neil welcomed back commanding centre half Patrick Bauer, who partnered Paul Huntington – who himself took home the man of the match – plus he also included Nugent and Billy Bodin from the start and all three of those who came into the side were impressive in a fantastic team display.
The game began with Welshman Bodin getting an early shot away from the left edge of the penalty area, the ball deflecting behind for the corner, but it was from his delivery on 23 minutes that led to the opener.
Captain Alan Browne, who would later have to slot into right back for much of the game after the loss of Rafferty, flicked on Bodin’s outswinging left-hand corner and Maguire collected the ball with his back to goal, spun and shot low through the legs of both Alfie Mawson and Marek Rodák and into the net, for PNE’s first goal in five games.
It was almost two just minutes later as Bodin this time delivered a free kick from the right corner of the box after a foul on Brad Potts and Huntington flicked a header just wide of the left hand upright.
The Cottagers went down to ten men on 28 minutes and there was no doubting the decision of referee Keith Stroud, who consulted assistant James Mainwaring before brandishing the card to full back Odoi, who had smashed Bauer in the face on the edge of the 18-yard line for no apparent reason.
With a man advantage, the home side tried to extend the lead before the break; Bodin went close when his chip from the edge of the box after a scramble, took a ricochet wide off Mawson and then Maguire almost had his second after another brilliant ball from Bodin split the visiting defence and found the Irishman man, but Rodák saved superbly, making himself big.
But right on the 45-minute mark it was ten-a-side when Rafferty saw red for a challenge on Joe Bryan, who had come on as a substitute after Odoi’s own sending-off – again the match official was left with little choice but to make the decision.
This could have set PNE back, but they came out after the interval with intent and could have been two up within five minutes and Nugent ran straight through onto a long ball from Declan Rudd down the middle and shot, Rodák making another superb save.
But his long, long wait for a goal came and it almost lifted the roof off the Alan Kelly Town End in front of which he scored it. Potts had been put in by another excellent Bodin through ball, but once again the visiting keeper made a fine stop, only this time the ball went up into the air at the left hand post and Nugent got up above Mawson to win a header and then got onto the loose ball to fire home.
Scott Parker’s side did not give up, however, and with just over a quarter of an hour to go, Stefan Johansen rattled the cross bar with a shot from the right corner of the penalty area after Anthony Knockaert’s corner from the left.
And they got their reward – although somewhat fortuitously with nine minutes left when a deflected Mitrović shot from 15 yards out gave Rudd no chance, heading into the bottom left-hand corner – for what was Fulham’s only shot on target all night!
The final minutes were very open, substitute Josh Harrop flashed a shot across goal from a very tight angle on the left and then once again Rodák saved from another change, Tom Barkhuizen, after square ball from Harrop on left.
There was seven and a half minutes of added time played, after six had been signalled, with a déjà vu of a visit to Craven Cottage two years previous, but even with the visiting goalkeeper in the box for a final second corner, they could not get a goal and PNE took a deserved three points on a thoroughly entertaining night under the Deepdale floodlights.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Rafferty, Hughes, Pearson (Clarke, 83), Bauer, Huntington, Bodin (Harrop, 84), Browne (c), Nugent (Barkhuizen, 75), Potts, Maguire. Subs not used: Hudson, Bayliss, Ledson, Stockley.
Fulham line-up: Rodak, Odoi, Mawson (Kebano, 60), Johansen, Mitrović (c), Ream, Cavaleiro (Bryan, 32), Christie, Knockaert (De La Torre, 90), Onomah, Kamara. Subs not used: Bettinelli, O’Riley, Taylor-Crossdale, Harris.
Attendance: 10,093 (331 Fulham fans)
Referee: Mr K Stroud