Comeback kid Paul Huntington starred on his return as Preston North End beat Gillingham 1-0 at the Priestfield Stadium.
Huntington marked his first start of the season with a thumping header in the swirling wind as he ensured a dominant PNE side secured their sixth consecutive victory.
PNE launched a six minute onslaught on the Gills goal in the second half that saw Huntington’s header crash against the bar and Callum Robinson denied by the far post.
Just as it appeared North End’s luck was out the defender pounced and finally rippled the back of Stuart Nelson’s net as he powered home Chris Humphrey’s fizzing cross in the 60th minute.
In an end-to-end game PNE hit the woodwork four times as Joe Garner’s first-half header and Paul Gallagher’s fierce strike were also thwarted by the goal frame.
And keeper Jamie Jones made a fine save to deny Cody McDonald in the 76th minute to ensure North End recorded back-to-back clean sheets.
North End manager Simon Grayson made three changes from the side that beat Port Vale 2-0 on Saturday.
Huntington started in place of captain Tom Clarke who was absent due to illness whilst Scott Wiseman was injured in the pre-match warm-up and was replaced at right back by Scott Laird.
Robinson made his first start in place of Kyel Reid who moved to the bench as North End continue to ease him back from a knee injury.
Will Hayhurst picked up a knock when he came on as a substitute against Vale on Saturday and missed out on a place is the squad and Bailey Wright is still unavailable due to an on-going groin problem.
Jones was called into action early at a wind ravaged Priestfeild stadium as he palmed away Danny Kedwell’s fierce header in the eighth minute.
In Clarke’s absence Garner took the captain’s armband and the striker nearly added to his goal tally but he was denied by the woodwork as his header crashed off the top of the bar and flew to safety in the 11th minute.
Garner headed over his own bar moments later and David Buchanan was on hand to save PNE from the resulting corner. The defender stopped John Egan’s header rippling the left corner of the net as he headed the ball off the line in the 15th minute.
Kedwell’s diving header skimmed wide of Jones’ right-hand post but the Gills captain was furious as he believed he was impeded as he challenged for the ball in the 23rd minute.
Moments later Gallagher sliced the ball way wide of Nelson’s right-hand post after Jack King had teed him up just outside the box.
Jamaican wing wizard Humphrey beat the offside trap and ran through on goal in the 29th minute but his first touch was too heavy and Nelson stormed out to deny the PNE paceman.
Brennan Dickenson exploited the swirling wind as his angled, curling 25-yard shot from the left whirled through the air before dipping and clattering the bar in the 34th minute.
Gillingham only cleared Gallgher’s second half corner into the path of Kilkenny who smashed the ball into a crowd of bodies. Buchanan picked up the loose ball 20-yards out and sliced a first time shot just wide of Nelson’s right-hand post in the 50th minute.
Garner latched onto Gallagher’s fierce free-kick from the right wing and Nelson tipped the striker’s header over the centre of the bar.
Then from the resulting corner Huntington’s header rattled the crossbar before bouncing back down creating a goalmouth scramble that the Gills eventually cleared.
And seconds later PNE were denied by the woodwork again as Robinson’s header clattered into the far post.
But Huntington ensured PNE’s pressure paid off as the defender marked his return to the starting set-up with a powerful header that flew into the back of Gillingham’s net in the 60th minute.
Buchanan was booked for handling the ball and halting a Gillingham counter-attack in the 71st minute.
Leon Legge could not capitalise on a free header in the 72nd minute. The Gills player skied the ball over the bar from 12-yards out.
Gallagher appeared to be one-on-one with the keeper in the 74th minute but as the attacker spun he fired his shot straight at Nelson.
Cody McDonald had a golden opportunity to level for the host’s in the 76th minute but Jones made a fine save to stop the striker’s low eight-yard strike.
Substitute Kevin Davies made an immediate impact as he outfoxed Legge to tee up Gallagher on the edge of the box. The Scot’s first time effort crashed into the cross bar in the 87th minute.
PNE: Jones, Laird, King, Huntington, Buchanan, Humphrey (Reid, 73), Browne, Kilkenny, Robinson (Davies, 85) Gallagher, Garner. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Ryan, K Davies, Holmes, Welsh, Brownhill.
Gillingham: Nelson, Martin, Egan, Legge, Hessenthaler, Kedwell (Norris, 76), McDonald, McGlashan (German, 76), Pritchard (Dack, 72), Dickenson, Hoyte. Subs not used: Fish, Hare, Bywater, Staunton.
Referee: James Linington (Isle of White)
Attendance 4632 (PNE 216)