PNE 3 Gillingham 1 full-time

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Preston North End claimed their fifth Deepdale victory on the bounce as they eased past Gillingham.

Goals from John Welsh, Paul Gallagher and substitute Neil Kilkenny gave the Lilywhites the three points.

Preston North End's Manager Simon Grayson

Preston North End's Manager Simon Grayson

Welsh’s first goal for 19 months set them on their way in the eighth minute, the skipper finishing off a fine four-man move with a shot from 10 yards.

Although North End bossed much of the first period, Gillingham got themselves back into the game a minute before half-time when Cody McDonald took advantage of a misplaced header from Keith Keane to rifle home an equaliser.

But two goals in seven minutes after the interval put the home side back in command.

The outstanding Gallagher swept home a low shot for the second goal in the 57th minute.

Kilkenny then scored the third with his first touch of the ball after replacing Alan Browne in midfield.

A few minutes after the final whistle, the Preston players returned to the pitch from the dressing room for a lap of thanks.

PNE boss Simon Grayson had made two changes to the Lilywhites side.

Joe Garner and Keane returned to the starting XI in place of Kevin Davies and Tom Clarke.

Keane came in at right-back in a 4-4-2 system, Clarke having suffered a minor calf strain in the first-half of Easter Monday’s win over Shrewsbury.

Leading scorer Garner took over from Davies up front, Davies moving down to the bench.

An early header from Gills skipper Adam Barrett went straight at Declan Rudd, but that gave way to a dominant spell of pressure from North End.

They took an eighth-minute lead, Welsh finishing off a fine passing move.

Gallagher, Garner and Beavon all exchanged passes, Beavon’s pass falling to Welsh who struck home a shot from eight yards.

It was the skipper’s first goal since the early weeks of last season and only his second for the club.

North End carved out a number of chances to stretch the lead as they bossed the opening 30 minutes of play.

Beavon’s shot from an acute angle forced a save from Gills goalkeeper Stuart Nelson at his near post.

In the 17th minute, Gallagher got behind the visitors back four to run through on goal but he stroked a low shot just wide of the target.

Lee Holmes, Browne and Welsh saw efforts bounce wide as the chances began to stack up.

Ten minutes before the interval, Gallagher’s diagonal pass from the right picked out Holmes who held off the attentions of his marker to get into the box and hit a low shot which Nelson palmed behind at the near post.

Some sloppy PNE play in the closing minutes of the first half began to give Gillingham more of a foot-hold in the contest.

And after a couple of warnings, the Kent club drew level in the 44th minute.

Keane jumped in the box to try and clear a cross from the left, the ball skimming off his head and falling to McDonald who needed no second invitation to drive a well-taken volley past Rudd.

Four minutes into the second half, good work from Gallagher on the right saw him get to the byline and lift a cross into the middle.

Garner got up highest but his header travelled across goal and dropped wide of the post.

Buoyed by his first-half goal, Welsh let fly with a shot from distance in the 53rd minute which travelled the wrong side of the target.

At the other end, Chris Whelpdale’s daisy-cutter from just outside the box was comfortably saved by Rudd.

North End regained the lead in the 57th minute, a move down the right side involving Jack King, Beavon, Holmes and Keane seeing it up.

Keane squared a pass into the path of Gallagher who took a touch before sweeping a confident low finish past Nelson into the corner of the net.

A double substitution saw Kilkenny and Chris Humphrey replace Browne and Holmes in the 62nd minute.

Kilkenny’s first touch saw him score PNE’s third goal less than two minutes after coming on.

Gallagher kept the ball in play on the left and played it back to the supporting Welsh.

He swung a cross into the box which Garner met with a header, Nelson diving to his left to parry it.

The ball dropped down towards the far post, Kilkenny getting there ahead of a defender to knock it over the line from close range.

Gallagher forced a good save out of Nelson, cutting inside from the left and unleashing a low shot which the keeper held at the second attempt.

Bayo Akinfenwa, on as a substitute for Gillingham, got on the end of a free-kick to nod inches over Rudd’s bar in the 80th minute.

PNE: Rudd, Keane, King, Wright, Laird, Holmes (Humphrey 62), Welsh, Browne (Kilkenny 62), Gallagher, Beavon, Garner (C Davies 75). Subs not used: K Davies, Buchanan, Huntington, Stuckmann.

Gillingham: Nelson, Hewitt, Legge, Barrett, Martin, Lee (Akinfenwa 70), Hessenthaler (Dack 78), Gregory, Whelpdale (Weston 58), Smith, McDonald. Subs not used: Linganzi, Harriman, Fagan, Baxter.

Referee: Charles Breakspear (Surrey)

Attendance: 11,951 (323 Gillingham)