Bradford City 0 PNE 3

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Hands up who was a bit wary of what was awaiting Preston North End at Valley Parade on Easter Monday afternoon?

A dodgy pitch and a big physical, play-off-pushing Bradford side who not too long ago had dumped Chelsea out of the FA Cup, was the test on the other side of the Pennines.

Paul Gallagher is first to the ball after his spot-kick was saved and he put North End in front

Paul Gallagher is first to the ball after his spot-kick was saved and he put North End in front

It was the type of game which really had the potential to test North End’s automatic promotion credentials.

But North End battled and fought their way through it to leave their 2,216 travelling supporters singing, ‘We are going up’ at the final whistle.

They played against 10 men for 77 minutes, Bantams centre-half Christopher Routis sent off for a professional foul on Joe Garner.

Do not for one moment, though, think it was a stroll in the West Yorkshire sunshine for Simon Grayson’s men.

It was only after the interval that PNE made it count, with second-half goals from Paul Gallagher, Daniel Johnson and Chris Humphrey.

Before the goals and between them, the visitors had to show their mettle at the back to handle City front pair James Hanson and Jon Stead.

Another game chalked off, three more points gathered to push North End nearer to a return to the Championship.

If the pressure was on Preston to win this one, then it is now firmly back on Bristol City, Swindon and MK Dons who all play on Tuesday.

For the time being, their lead in second place is eight points.

The moment this game swung North End’s way was 19 seconds after half-time when Jermaine Beckford was felled in the box.

Gallagher’s resulting penalty was parried by home keeper Ben Williams but the taker made swift amends by knocking home the rebound.

It was a moment of class from Johnson – again – for the second goal, curling a shot into the top corner from just inside the box.

Humphrey finished it all off with a deflected strike, moments after Sam Johnstone had produced a fantastic save at the other end to thwart Billy Clarke.

Grayson made two changes to the Lilywhites side from the one which had beaten Rochdale on Good Friday.

Humphrey and Paul Huntington came into the starting XI, with Callum Robinson and Calum Woods moving to the bench.

Huntington’s return to the side came after he recovered from the clattering he got in the Fleetwood game which saw him carried off on a stretcher.

North End switched formations from 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2, Grayson wanting the security of another centre-back to deal with Stead and Hanson.

The first half was a physical scrap, North End having a numerical advantage from the 13th minute onwards.

Garner set off to chase Bailey Wright’s header out from the back, got ahead of the Bantams defence and received a shove in the back from Routis.

Down he went to the floor, referee Mark Heywood producing the red card to dispatch the centre-back who was deemed the last man.

The resulting free-kick from Gallagher was curled round the wall but straight into the arms of Williams.

Chances were at a premium as the first period progressed, the ball spending much of the time in the air.

John Welsh went into Mr Heywood’s notebook for a foul in the centre circle as the battle to get on top continued.

Both teams went close in the final stages of the half as rare gaps appeared in either defence.

In the 39th minute, Johnson carried the ball down the middle of the pitch before switching play to Joe Garner who in turn found Gallagher.

The ball was played back to Garner who opened up his body on the edge of the box and curled a right-footed effort inches wide.

A minute before the interval, Tom Clarke’s attempted back pass fell woefully short of Johnstone, allowing Stead to steal in.

He looked certain to score but struggled to get the ball out of his feet and did not connect cleanly with his shot, Johnstone diving to save well.

There was a double change at the interval for North End, Neil Kilkenny and Jack King replacing Welsh and Huntington.

The system switched to a 4-3-3 with Clarke moving to right-back, King slotting in alongside Wright in the middle and Kilkenny going into midfield.

The substitutes had not even had time to touch the ball by the time Preston took the lead.

Just 19 seconds after Mr Heywood blown the whistle to signal the start of the second half, he was pointing to the spot after Beckford tumbled under Gary Liddle’s challenge.

Gallagher did his usual penalty routine, turning his back to goal before striding to the edge of the box.

Williams guessed right to dive and parry the penalty but GALLAGHER was first to the rebound to prod it over the line from three yards.

The lead was doubled in the 54th minute by Johnson.

King’s pass forward was chased by Johnson, the midfielder taking possession down the inside-right channel.

His touch was heavy as he cut inside, the ball hitting Gallagher and rolling back into his path.

One more stride took JOHNSON into the box from where he curled a superb left-foot finish over Williams into the far top corner.

North End almost scored a third when Humphrey played the ball into Clarke on the right wing, the skipper sending over a first-time cross which found Beckford 10 yards out.

His header looked destined to find the net until Williams dived across to push it away.

As the contest moved into the last 20 minutes, King handled to conceded a free-kick a yard outside the box.

The defensive wall did its job, Mark Yeates’ effort bouncing off a Preston head and bouncing away.

The fine margins which can be decisive in football were evident as North End’s advantage was first threatened and then increased in the space of sixty seconds.

In the 80th minute, Clarke let fly with a shot from 25 yards which Johnstone dived at full stretch to tip over.

The resulting corner was cleared, with North End going up the other end to score.

Johnstone’s kicked clearance was won by Garner in the air, the striker cushioning it down into the path of HUMPHREY.

He cut inside and let fly with a shot which clipped off left-back James Meredith and travelled over Williams into the roof of the net.

Kilkenny had to be alert to clear a header from Rory McArdle off the line in the 82nd minute.

In stoppage time, Garner’s shot was deflected behind for a corner as North End sought to further drive home their advantage.

The 16,032 crowd was Bradford’s biggest in the league this season but by the end it was only the away fans who could be heard.

“Are you going to believe us, the Whites are going up,” rang out from behind the goal and two sections of the stand down the side.

BRADFORD: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Routis, Meredith, Morais (, Liddle (Dolan 79), Clarke, Knott, Hanson, Stead (Yeates 66). Subs (not used): Zoko, McMahon, Webb-Foster, Urwin.

Booked: Liddle 47

Sent off: Routis 13

PRESTON: Johnstone 8, Huntington 7 (King 46), Clarke 7, Wright 8, Humphrey 8 (Little 85), Welsh 7 (Kilkenny 46), Johnson 8, Gallagher 7, Laird 7, Beckford 7, Garner 7. Subs (not used): Woods, Robinson, Davies, Stuckmann.

Booked: Welsh 34, Beckford 43, Clarke 64, Humphrey 72
ref: Mark Heywood (Cheshire) 
ATTENDANCE: 16,032 (2,216 PNE)

STAR MAN: Bailey Wright