A 93rd-minute Ched Evans header ensured Preston North End kicked off the new year with three points away to Stoke City.
It looked as though the game was going to end goalless, until Evans popped up in the third minute of stoppage time to flick a header home to earn a victory on the road.
Ryan Lowe made four changes from Thursday’s defeat at West Brom, with Andrew Hughes returning from injury, while Ali McCann, Bambo Diaby and Daniel Johnson also came in.
After a 15-minute delay to kick-off due to traffic congestion, PNE made a very lively start to the game and could have benefitted from some great early crosses into the area from the likes of Browne – operating at wing back – and Johnson.
Álvaro Fernández had the first effort of note, seeing a volley blocked at close range after a good one-two between himself and Riis, while Jacob Brown tested Freddie Woodman at the other end.
Harry Clarke then had a powerful effort inside the area blocked at close range by McCann, and minutes later Emil Riis was forced off through injury.
The best chance of the half fell to the hosts on 40 minutes, who could and perhaps should have taken the lead. Josh Tymon cut the ball back from the byline for Tyrese Campbell, whose effort lacked power, so his strike partner Brown flicked it goalwards where Woodman was brilliantly across to save, but the forward was flagged offside in any case.
The goalkeeper then came up with two big saves in stoppage-time, firstly diving to his left to deny Campbell, before then saving with his legs to keep out Brown’s effort, which had taken a deflection off of Browne.
There weren’t too many opportunities to talk about at either end in the opening stages of the second half, with the majority of the game being played in the middle of the park.
North End’s best breaks, on separate occasions through Ben Whiteman and Johnson, saw yellow cards brandished for the hosts, as they cynically fouled when PNE looked to attack in numbers.
There was a big chance for Stoke in the 83rd minute when Nick Powell’s knockdown fell to substitute Delap just four yards out, but he got his touch all wrong as he sent the ball away from goal.
Just a minute later, PNE had their best opportunity of the game, with Woodman’s long ball forward bouncing over the defence and through to Woodburn, whose volley looked to be dipping over Bonham, but the ‘keeper just got a touch.
At that stage, it looked as though the game may end in a deadlock, but three points were earned late on when Evans flicked Browne’s corner towards goal and the ball went in off the post, cuing huge celebrations in the away end.
Stoke City line-up: Bonham; Wilmot, Souttar, Fox; Clarke, Baker (Laurent, 79), Thompson, Smallone, Tymon; Campbell (Powell, 74), Brown (Delap, 65). Subs not used: Bursik, Kilkenny, Fosu, Taylor.
PNE line-up: Woodman; DIaby, Lindsay, Hughes; Browne (Ledson 90+6), Whiteman, McCann, Johnson, Fernández; Riis (Woodburn, 23), Evans. Subs not used: Cornell, Cunningham, Bauer, Cross-Adair, Potts.
Attendance: 20,034 (1,606 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr L Doughty.