PNE 2 Walsall 1 full-time

PNE manager: Simon Grayson
PNE manager: Simon Grayson
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Preston North End maintained their promotion push with victory over Walsall at Deepdale.

All the goals came in a scrappy first half, an own goal from Saddlers defender Paul Downing and a Bailey Wright header sandwiching an equaliser from Sam Mantom.

The visitors were reduced to 10 men for the last eight minutes when Mantom got a straight red card for a high challenge on Joe Garner.

But it needed a superb stoppage-time save from Declan Rudd to prevent them snatching an equaliser, the Lilywhites keeper tipping a shot from substitute james Baxendale over the bar.

PNE boss Simon Grayson had stuck with an unchanged starting XI and bench.

Scott Wiseman shook off a knock sustained in last Tuesday’s 3-3 draw against Rotherham in order to play at right-back.

North End skipper John Welsh was still missing having sustained bruising to a bone in his knee.

The game started in rapid-fire fashion with goals at either end inside the opening five minutes.

But came as a result of defensive errors, North End taking the lead with less than three minutes on the clock.

Saddlers centre-half Downing under pressure from Garner and Craig Davies, attempted to find Richard O’Donnell with a back pass, only to see it roll past his wrong-footed goalkeeper and over the line.

Within a minute the visitors had levelled though, Tom Clarke’s stray pass out of defence after collecting a throw-in from Scott Laird intercepted by Mantom.

The midfielder burst into the box and hit a shot which went straight at Rudd.

But he could only push it straight back into the path of Mantom who guided a second shot into the bottom corner.

It took a while for the game to settle after that, with little over the next 15 or so minutes to excite the crowd.

Mantom stabbed a shot well wide at full-stretch after the ball was lobbed over the North End defence.

At the other end, Garner’s diving header from a Paul Gallagher corner was turned past the foot of the near post by O’Donnell.

The Lilywhites took the lead in the 28th minute after Garner won a free-kick down the left channel after getting a shove in the back.

Gallagher delivered it right-footed into the box, Wright rising to send a header past O’Donnell for his third goal of the season.

Walsall came close to an equaliser 10 minutes later, Nicky Featherstone bursting through on the left side of the box and drilling a low shot across the six-yard box and just wide of the back post.

Just before the interval, Keith Keane popped up on the right side of the box and struck a volley goalwards which the keeper dived to parry away.

While there were no more goals in the second half, it was a better 45 minutes of football from North End,

Keane saw an early chance drift wide of the target after he had chested down a clearance on the edge of the box and swing his right boot at it.

In the 50th minute, Davies bullied his way down the left side of the box, checked inside and hit a low shot which O’Donnell got down to block.

Walsall won a free-kick just outside the Preston box after Wright handled, Mantom hitting his shot into the wall.

Davies tried his luck with a powerful shot from 25 yards which O’Donnell tipped over the bar, and soon after saw an effort deflected behind.

The visitors went down to 10 men in the 82nd minute, Mantom’s high tackle on Garner seeing referee Seb Stockbridge go quickly to his pocket for the red card.

Two minutes into stoppage-time, Rudd made a magnificent save to keep Preston’s lead in tact.

Baxendale weaved his way forward from midfield and hit a 25-yard shot which moved in the air, Rudd at full-stretch tipping it over the bar.

In all, North End had to see out almost seven minutes of time added on, holding out for a seventh home league win of the campaign.

PNE: Rudd, Wiseman, Clarke, Wright, Laird, Humphrey (King 90), Keane, Kilkenny (Brownhill 65), Gallagher, C Davies, Garner (Beavon 86). Subs not used: K Davies, Holmes, Buchanan, Stuckmann.

Walsall: O’Donnell, Benning, Butler, Downing, Featherstone (Sawyers 66), A Chambers, Mantom, J Chambers, Lalkovic (Ngoo 80), Brandy (Baxendale 66), Westcarr. Subs not used: Purkiss, Hewitt, McQuilkin, Roberts.

Referee: Seb Stockbridge (Tyne and Wear)

Attendance: 10,034 (411 Walsall)