Jermaine Beckford’s sublime strike sealed a 1-0 victory for Preston North End over Rochdale at Deepdale.
Beckford pounced on Scott Laird’s long throw in the box and outfoxed the Rochdale defence by skilfully spinning and smashing the ball home from an acute angle in the 36th minute.
Despite Rochdale’s pressure they only had three shots on target and all of those occurred in the opening 10 minutes.
The result moves Preston seven points clear of third-placed Swindon. The Robins have two games in hand on North End but the Lilywhites are sitting pretty on a 12 match unbeaten run in second spot of the League One table after a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Dale.
Simon Grayson made three changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Fleetwood last weekend.
Bailey Wright and Callum Robinson returned to the starting XI after international duty.
Jack King and Chris Humphrey moved to the bench as Calum Woods was recalled to the starting line-up.
Paul Huntington missed the game due to a back injury sustained in last Sunday’s Cod Army clash.
Rochdale started brightly as Michael Rose’s free-kick was palmed away by Sam Johnstone in the third minute.
But North End fought back as Joe Garner teed-up Robinson in space on the left. The young forward tore down on goal but Josh Lillis palmed his fierce strike out of play in the 15th minute.
Dale had the ball in the back of the net in the 29th minute as Rhys Bennett nodded home from close range. But thankfully for PNE the goal was chalked off as Bennett was in an offside position.
Beckford opened the scoring in the 36th minute as he latched on to a long throw before escaping the clutches of two Dale defenders before spinning and firing home from an acute angle.
Dale reacted to conceding by rattling the post. Andy Cannon’s shot smacked into the right post before rebounding to a host of PNE players in the box in the 39th minute.
Rochdale should have equalised in the 53rd minute as Ian Henderson stole in unmarked at the back post but the striker headed over the bar.
Moments later Garner pounced on Johnson’s cross but his diving header flew way wide of the right post.
Woods whipped the ball in to the box and Garner leapt above the waiting pack at the back post but he headed the ball straight at Lillis.
Scott Laird’s thunderous shot from just outside the box was tipped over by a diving Lillis in the 90th minute.
PNE: Johnstone, Woods, Clarke, Wright, Laird, Johnson, Welsh, Gallagher, Beckford (Humphrey, 63), Garner, Robinson (Little, 81). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Wiseman, Kilkenny, Davies, King.
Rochdale: Lillis, Bennett, Eastham, Lancashire, Vincenti (Brandy, 79) Hery (Noble-Lazarus,63) Rose, Cannon, Kennedy, Bunny (Andrew, 70), Hemnderson. Subs not used: Diba Musangu, Rafferty, Hasler-Cregg, Camps.
Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire)
Attendance: 12,288 (1,063 away)