Alan Browne’s 11th goal of the season and a second from Tom Barkhuizen gave North End a derby day victory over Bolton Wanderers at the University of Bolton Stadium.
Browne converted from Barkhuizen’s clever reverse ball in five minutes before half-time, and Barkhuizen sealed the points with a breakaway goal eight minutes from time – despite a late consolation from Clayton Donaldson for the home side.
Manager Alex Neil made one change to his side for the first time in four games, Tom Barkhuizen replacing Jayden Stockley – who dropped to the bench – with Sean Maguire moving into the No.9 role up top.
The first real chance came on 24 minutes, and it was a gilt-edged one. Barkhuizen made a break from half way, driving right at the open heart of the Trotters defence – it parting like the Red Sea for Moses – and he got into the box, but drilled his shot past Matthews, but also past the left hand upright from 18 years.
Ten minutes before the break, the Lilywhites had a huge shout for a penalty when Gallagher’s right-wing free kick was headed at the back post by Browne, clearly coming off Josh Magennis’ arm, but referee Andy Madley only awarded a corner.
Alan Browne came the closest of anyone to breaking the deadlock shortly after. Barkhuizen had run away down the right and saw a cross into the box deflected, for it to be collected by the No.8, who beat Matthews, but Jason Lowe was on the line to clear for the home side.
But the deadlock was finally broken on five minutes before the break and it was a stunning strike.
Fisher, Gallagher and Maguire were involved in the build-up, but it was a ball into Browne, once again, who flicked it inside the right back for Barkhuizen to run on and then return the favour, reversing the ball to the Irishman, who drilled a shot through the legs of Wheater and into the bottom left hand corner of Matthews’ goal, in front of the buoyant 4,557 PNE fans packed away end, because the Trotters had bizarrely switched to play towards their home fans in the first half at the toss before kick-off.
It should have been two within three minutes as this time Browne found Maguire in the box and the strike did brilliantly, putting Marc Wilson on the floor, before flicking the ball past Matthews, only for an outstretched arm from the keeper made a brilliant last ditch save. From Gallagher’s left-wing corner, Browne was again found, making a late run at the back post. He kept his bullet header down, but it was inches the wrong side of the left-hand post.
The second half started with another five minute spell of pressure from the visitors, now playing away from their own fans, a flurry of corners came for Gallagher to again put the ball into the penalty area, as well as a brace of free kicks on the right.
As the half approached ten minutes, Browne collected a sloppy clearance from Matthews and broke in behind Wheater down the left, before drilling a ball across towards Barkhuizen, only for the Bolton captain to recover superbly to cut out the cross and concede yet another corner.
At the second period’s mid-point some scintillating football from North End saw them pass their way through the Bolton midfield and defence, with Brad Potts collecting the ball and marching into the box, beating Matthews with his shot, but the ball came back off the inside of the left-hand post and was hoofed clear by the Wanderers backline.
And with eight minutes to go a second finally followed. The greens won the ball in the middle of the pitch, Sean Maguire on half way threading the ball superbly through the middle into space for Barkhuizen to run onto, before drawing the keeper and slotting past him into the bottom left hand corner to make it 2-0.
The stadium emptied in the home stands at this point, whilst the volume from behind the away goal went up a notch.
However, the game wasn’t over as Donaldson, on as a substitute for the Phil Parkinson’s side, scored in the final minute from a header back by Magennis, after Gary O’Neil’s cross from the right.
And then in the second minute of stoppage time it took a stunning Declan Rudd tipped save to push over a Magennis header, but despite this, the late goal proved no more than a consolation as it became three wins out of four for PNE and five unbeaten.
Bolton Wanderers line-up: Matthews, Loew, Ameobi, Noone (Pritchard, 77), Connolly, Wilson, O’Neil, Magennis, Grounds (Donaldson, 62), Wheater (c), Connell (Vela, 23). Subs not used: Alnwick, Buckley, Olkowski, Dyer.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Fisher, Hughes, Pearson (Lesdson, 87), Storey, Davies, Potts, Gallagher (c) (Nmecha, 76), Maguire, Browne (Johnson, 90), Barkhuizen. Subs not used: Crowe, Earl, Clarke, Stockley.
Attendance: 17,381 (4,565 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr A Madley