In a stunning game at Hillsborough, the Lilywhites came from a goal behind to score three in the last 12 minutes and secure a 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday.
Substitutes Scott Sinclair, Jayden Stockley and Brad Potts grabbed the goals, after Jacob Murphy had given the Owls the lead against the run of play and it was no more than they deserved after a brilliant performance.
Manager Alex Neil made two changes before the game, Jordan Storey coming into a back three and Sean Maguire partnering Tom Barkhuizen in attack; Brad Potts and the injured Josh Harrop missing out.
And the team, with a new formation, were on the front foot from the off. Within 90 seconds they had a good chance when a Joe Rafferty free kick – one of many good deliveries from the right wing back – found Patrick Bauer, after a foul on Ben Pearson by Barry Bannan, but the German’s header was just wide.
The hosts had a chance of their own in a blistering opening 15 minutes, amidst the torrential rain the game was played under, with Dominic Iorfa making a header against the bar from Bannan’s corner, won by Jacob Murphy off Andrew Hughes.
The chances from that point though were one-way for a good chunk of the rest of the half. On six minutes Maguire flicked on a ball from Hughes and Tom Barkhuizen raced into the box and fired a vicious shot, beating Wildsmith, but hitting the side-netting from a tight angle.
Before the ten-minute mark, there was another Bauer effort, again with a header, wide of the right-hand post from another Rafferty free kick from the left, after a foul by Iorfa on Rafferty, a great chance that left the defender crying out in agony.
A dozen minutes in and Joey Pelupessy, booked a moment earlier for a late foul on PNE skipper Alan Browne, made a last-ditch block to deny Ryan Ledson as Maguire found Hughes down the left and his deflected cross fell to the midfielder.
The 15-minute mark was still to arrive, but two more chances fell to the greens. A third header, from Hughes this time, from yet another Rafferty cross from the right went wide of the right-hand post and then Browne drilled a cross from the right after breaking, right across the six-yard box, but Maguire couldn’t get a touch to put the ball home.
Perhaps the best chance of the half came just after the half hour mark when Barkhuizen raced all the way from his own half after a flick by Maguire on half way; the No.29 cut across the defender, beat Wildsmith, but directed the ball just wide of the right-hand post.
Despite the dominance of possession and chances, the hosts almost went ahead then Alessio De Cruz was played through, but a brilliant recovery block by Storey and goalkeeping from Declan Rudd denied the Italian striker when one-on-one.
The second half started in the same fashion; a Ledson corner not able to be directed on goal by Hughes and then the left wing back also saw a shot blocked by Liam Palmer after an overlapping run down the left, found by Ledson.
But despite the pressure it was the Owls who made the breakthrough as Murphy broke from the right touchline, played a clever one-two with Atdhe Nuhiu, who flicked it through his own legs and back into the winger’s path and he fired hard and low under Rudd into the goal.
It was to be all out attack for the Lilywhites after the hour mark, with defensive midfielders Pearson and Ledson replaced by Potts and the returning Daniel Johnson, making his 200th appearance for the club, after coming back after two games out with injury.
A strong shout to penalty came after Johnson’s first touch; as he turned a ball from the left into the box and Maguire was wiped out by Julian Bӧrner, but referee Tony Harrington saw nothing wrong.
Moses Odubajo, on as a sub for Garry Monk’s side, made a vital block to deny Hughes again, after Maguire’s one-two, following the Welsh defender’s initial flick on, as PNE continued to be the side on the front foot.
Jayden Stockley and Scott Sinclair were also added for Hughes and Maguire as the manager went to a 4-3-3 formation with attackers and it paid immediate dividends as a long ball down the middle was flicked on by Stockley and Sinclair raced in, put a defender on the floor and fired hard and low into the middle of the goal – no more than their efforts had deserved on the night.
The last throw of the dice saw Paul Gallagher – also back from injury – on for Barkhuizen, looking to get him on the ball in what was now a very open and stretched game.
And he played his part as they went in front with three minutes left. It was Ben Davies who started it on the half way line as he found Gallagher, who played the ball into Johnson 30 yards out; he spun and turned the ball into Stockley on the edge of the box, who spun and fired hard and low into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal.
There were seven minutes added on at the end though as it was now the Hillsborough hosts who were looking to have an impact on the game, adding former PNE loanee Adam Reach to the attackers in the game.
And in the 96th minute the win was sealed as Stockley won yet another flick on and Potts ran onto it, drove to the edge of the box and curled the ball into the bottom right hand corner from 20 yards out to secure the valuable three points.
Sheffield Wednesday line-up: Wildsmith, Palmer, Harris, Pelupessy, Bannan (c), Bӧrner, Murphy (Odubajo, 63), Nuhiu, Luongo, Iorfa, Da Cruz (Windass, 69). Subs not used: Dawson, Rhodes, Reach, Hunt, Hughes, Grant, Shaw.
Preston North End line-up: Rudd, Rafferty, Hughes (Sinclair, 76), Storey, Bauer, Davies, Pearson (Potts, 64), Ledson (Johnson, 64), Browne (c), Barkhuizen (Gallagher, 84), Maguire (Stockley, 76). Subs not used: Ripley, Fisher, Gallagher, Stockley, Sinclair, Nugent, Bodin.
Referee: Mr T Harrington