Referee Oliver Langford was the centre of attention at the Riverside as North End were controversially beaten by Middlesbrough.
Skipper Alan Browne was sent off 36 minutes into the game, after Sam Morsy had twice elbowed the PNE No.8, who had pushed out to prevent further violence from the former Wigan Athletic man.
The Lilywhites were behind at that point, Jordan Storey unluckily diverting Yannick Bolasie’s cross past Daniel Iversen midway through the first half, but it was the sending-off that changed the game, with manager Alex Neil also seeing red on the pitch at half-time after confronting the match official.
The boss had made four changes to the side before the game and until the red card, the visitors were excellent, despite the goal from Middlesbrough’s only attempt.
Paul Gallagher – who took the armband after Browne’s early departure – Liam Lindsay, Tom Barkhuizen and Brad Potts came into the side and it was the blue-clad PNE that were on the front foot from the off.
On nine minutes, a great first-time ball from Gallagher from the right, was spilled by Marcus Bettinelli, but Dael Fry cleared away from Scott Sinclair.
Soon after, some pressure from PNE eventually saw Browne find the lively Ched Evans, who laid the ball back to Sepp van den Berg and he rattled the crossbar from outside the right corner of the penalty area.
But on 22 minutes, Neil Warnok’s side were in front when a cross from Bolasie on the left was sliced into his own net by Storey.
Within 90 seconds, North End thought they were level as Gallagher’s corner was headed down by Storey, spilled by Bettinelli and Sinclair fired home, but the flag went up.
But it was on 36 minutes that one of the game's key incidents occurred. The ball had gone down the line and off the ball, Morsy twice elbowed Browne in the face. The Irish international reacted by flicking out his right leg and the red card then came out.
The remaining ten minutes were played with almost disbelief by PNE, without any threat from Boro, but after the half-time whistle, the manager approached the referee and the red card again came out.
At the interval, Jayson Molumby came on for Scott Sinclair, with Warnock taking Morsy out of the firing line with Marcus Tavernier replacing the midfielder.
But the home side went two ahead on 51 minutes. A brilliant save by Iversen had kept out Paddy McNair moments earlier, but the second was created by the same man, who drove into the box and pulled the ball back, with a shot coming off the bar from Neeskens Kebano before it fell to substitute Tavernier, who nodded home from close range.
Emil Riis and Daniel Johnson – who became the third captain of the game for PNE – came on for Barkhuizen and Gallagher with ten minutes of the second period to try and get the game back to just one goal between them.
Darnell Fisher went into the referee’s book for bringing down Molumby after a driving run from the left by the Irishman, before Ben Whiteman replaced Evans, with Riis in attack in a 4-4-1 formation.
Despite the changes, the numbers game made it hard for PNE to have the dominance they enjoyed until the sending-off, but in the final five minutes, a left-wing cross from Joe Rafferty – who had come on for Lindsay – found Storey on the penalty spot, but his downward header was claimed by Bettinelli and the game finished 2-0.
Middlesbrough line-up: Bettinelli, Fisher, Fry, Hall, Bola, McNair (Saville, 57), Howson, Morsy (Tavernier, 46), Kebano (Mendez-Laing, 82), Bolasie (Coulson, 63), Akpom (Fletcher, 63). Subs not used: Archer, Spence, Johnson, Watmore.
PNE line-up: Iversen, van den Berg, Hughes, Gallagher (Johnson, 55), Storey, Lindsay (Rafferty, 78), Barkhuizen (Riis, 55), Browne (c), Evans (Whiteman, 69), Potts, Sinclair (Molumby, 46). Subs not used: Ripley, Huntington, Maguire, Gordon.
Referee: Mr O Langford