Joe Garner’s 23rd goal of the season was enough to give Preston North End victory over Crawley Town at Deepdale.
Garner met a cross from Keith Keane to head home in the 13th minute, and that was an advantage which the Lilywhites held on to for their second home win of the week.
It was not the most exciting of games but it cemented North End’s place in the play-offs and helped them close the gap on third-place Leyton Orient to one point.
They had chances to stretch the lead, Stuart Beavon’s glancing header dropping just wide while and Garner saw a second-half volley saved by Town keeper Paul Jones with his feet.
Simon Grayson had made three changes to the Lilywhites side.
Keane, Tom Clarke and Lee Holmes came into the starting XI in place of Scott Wiseman, Bailey Wright and Chris Humphrey.
Wiseman was missing having jarred his knee in last Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over Peterborough - Keane having replaced him during that game.
Clarke returned after resting a tight hamstring in midweek, taking over from Wright who moved to the bench, North End presumably mindful that the Australia centre-half is only one booking away from a two-match suspension.
Holmes was rewarded with his first start since the FA Cup replay defeat to Nottingham Forest in February, replacing Humphrey on the right-wing.
North End started brightly, Paul Gallagher driving a fifth-minute shot across the face of the goal which struck Matt Sadler and went behind for a corner.
They went in front in the 13th minute, Holmes taking up possession on the right-wing and finding his route blocked going forward, laid it back to the supporting Keane.
The right-back lifted a first-time cross into the box where the unmarked Garner rose to steer a header over keeper Jones into the net.
Neil Kilkenny scuffed a volley wide from the edge of the box as the home side looked to add to their lead.
A fine sliding tackle by Clarke on ex-PNE striker Jamie Proctor in the centre circle saw the ball come to Holmes to carried it forward before playing in Garner to the right of him.
Garner took the ball into the box but got crowded out as he went to shoot, the ball taking a touch off Sadler and behind for a corner.
Crawley began to find their feet as the first half went on and up until the interval looked brighter than their hosts.
Mike Jones got away down the left side of the box, his low shot aimed for the far post forcing Declan Rudd to dive and save.
Josh Simpson’s shot on the turn after Rudd had failed to get a decent punch on a corner, flashed across the box and wide of the back stick.
North End could have stretched their lead in the 42nd minute when Gallagher’s cross from the right side of the box found Garner but the striker got under his header and saw it clear the bar.
Two minutes into the second half, Beavon’s flick played in Garner in front of the Crawley defence but he lost his footing as he shaped to shoot and could not make a proper connection with the ball.
Beavon went ever close to scoring in the 58th minute, his glancing header from a fine ball in from Holmes, dropping inches wide of the far post.
Both sides had good chances to score in the space of sixty seconds of each other.
A cross from Holmes was met on the volley by Garner, his effort from 12 yards blocked by the out-stretched right boot of keeper Jones.
Crawley went straight down the other end and forced a corner, North End only partly clearing the flag-kick.
When the ball was played back into the box, Billy Clarke found himself unattended but he lifted his shot on the turn high over the bar and into the Kop.
In the 71st minute, Gallagher’s free-kick from 25 yards went well of the target, then in Preston’s next attack, Beavon put a header too close to the keeper from a John Welsh ball into the box.
Humphrey replaced Gallagher in the 74th minute, Holmes switching over to the left-wing to accommodate Humphrey’s arrival.
Soon after, former PNE winger Jeffrey Monakana came off the bench to join the action for Crawley.
He had joined the visitors on Thursday on a month’s loan from Brighton - the club who Preston sold him to in January.
With 10 minutes left, Welsh was upended by Joe Walsh in the ‘D’ outside the Crawley box, earning North End a free-kick and the Reds centre-half a booking.
Holmes curled the free-kick left-footed around the wall, forcing Jones to dive to his right and parry it away.
PNE appealed for a penalty in the 85th minute when Humphrey’s cross appeared to strike a Crawley arm, but referee David Webb shook his head and waved play on.
Craig Davies replaced Beavon soon after that shout, and was quickly involved in the action.
Garner’s punt forward from the half-way line was chased by the on-loan striker, Davies turning his marker and hitting a shot on the turn which Jones got himself behind to save.
Two minutes into stoppage-time, a corner from Adam Drury was met by Mark Connolly but he headed over the bar.
PNE: Rudd, Keane, King, Clarke, Buchanan, Holmes, Welsh, Kilkenny (Browne 66), Gallagher (Humphrey 74), Garner, Beavon (C Davies 86). Subs not used: Laird, Wright, K Davies, Stuckmann.
Crawley: P Jones, Simpson, Connolly, Walsh, Sadler, M Jones, Drury, Bulman (Monakana 76), Torres, Proctor, Clarke. Subs not used: Fallon, Kaikai, Boateng, Edwards, Dicker, Maddison.
Referee: David Webb (County Durham)
Attendance: 8,979 (122 Crawley)