A Joe Garner hat-trick fuelled PNE’s spectacular second-half fight back as they beat Fleetwood Town 3-2 at Deepdale.
North End were two goals down within seven minutes after a Stephen Jordan header and a Scott Laird own goal gave former PNE hero and Cod Army manager Graham Alexander’s side the perfect start.
But Garner, roared on by a bumper crowd, led the charge and ensured North End overturned Grezza’s men’s early two goal lead.
PNE manager Simon Grayson switched to 4-4-2 in the second half and an inspired Garner rained on Alexander’s homecoming parade as he produced an 18 minute striking master-class and tore Fleetwood apart.
The striker reduced the deficit in the 60th minute as he stole in to power home a signature thumping header.
Garner equalised with another fine header three minutes later and saved the best until last as his fierce left-footed shot from just inside the box rocketed past Fleetwood’s top-to-toe hot pink goalkeeper Chris Maxwell in the 78th minute and sealed North End’s seventh successive victory.
Left footed Laird played in an unfamiliar role slotting in at right back for the second successive game as PNE boss Simon Grayson was unable to call on injured right backs Calum Woods and Scott Wiseman.
Tom Clarke missed the game through illness and Bailey Wright is still out with a groin problem as Grayson made one change to the side that beat Gillingham 1-0 on Tuesday night.
Kyel Reid was recalled to the starting XI and Chris Humphrey moved to the bench.
Ben Davies joins Humphrey on North End’s bench after completing a one month loan spell at Tranmere Rovers.
Grezza is not the only familiar face returning. Jamie Proctor and Conor McLaughlin both left PNE in 2012 and started for Fleetwood on their return to Deepdale.
Preston born duo Nathan Pond and Blackburn loanee Josh Morris were both named in Alexander’s starting XI.
Today’s clash was the first time Alexander has returned to Deepdale as a manager since making 421 appearances and scoring 65 goals as a PNE player and the Cod Army boss’ side were straight out of the blocks.
Fleetwood took the lead in the 53rd second as Jordan latched onto Josh Morris’ corner from the right and powerfully headed the ball high into the centre of the goal through Jones’ arms.
Antoni Sarcevic’s angled cross from the right fizzed across the goal mouth and Laird sliced the ball into his own net as Grezza’s men doubled their lead in the seventh minute.
Up the other end Jack King connected with Gallagher’s fierce free-kick but the defender headed the ball wide of Maxwell’s top right hand corner.
Both sets of supporters honoured 15-year-old Melissa Smith, who died playing football for Cadley FC at Euxton last Sunday, with a standing ovation in the 15th minute.
Paul Gallagher stung the palms of Fleetwood keeper Maxwell in the 22nd minute as the keeper tipped the attacker’s 30-yard free-kick over the bar.
The Scot tried his luck from distance again and his thunderous 30-yard strike rippled the left hand side netting of goal.
Garner nearly stole in at the back post and pulled a goal back but Laird’s left-footed cross from the right was too deep and the striker looped the ball out of play aiming to hook the ball back across goal to the keeper’s left.
At the start of the second half Grayson sent veteran striker Kevin Davies on for Reid and Alan Browne made way for John Welsh as North End switched to a 4-4-2 formation.
King’s header did not have enough pace to reach Jones in the 49th minute and Morris raced on to the loose ball but the Preston born midfielder could not punish PNE and fired straight at Jones.
K Davies had an immediate impact picking up Paul Huntington’s deep ball on the edge of the box and teed up Gallagher on the right wing. The Scot raced towards the byline and swept the ball over Maxwell into the path of Garner but the striker’s header flew over the bar in the 53rd minute.
And PNE were thwarted by goalscorer Jordan as he cleared Huntington’s header off the line. The defender leapt above the pack and headed Gallagher’s set-piece beyond Maxwell but Jordan was on hand to mop up
But Garner reduced the deficit moments later as he pounced on Kilkenny’s cross at the far post heading the ball beyond Maxwell in the 60th minute.
Cod Army keeper Maxwell was booked for a scuffle with a team mate after the goal.
And within minutes Gallagher’s cross teed-up Garner to level the score as his powerful header rippled the back of Maxwell’s net in the 63rd minute.
King looked like he had put PNE in front but his back post header flew inches wide of the keeper’s right hand post.
Jamie Proctor was booked for a foul on K Davies in the 64th minute.
But Garner completed his hat-trick and PNE’s comeback in the 78th minute as he latched on to K Davies’ flick-on just inside the area and drilled a low thunderbolt past Maxwell.
And Pond got booked for bringing Garner down as North End held on to seal a fine comeback in front of a bumper crowd.
PNE: Jones, Laird (Humphrey, 55), King, Huntington, Buchanan, Browne (Welsh, 46), Kilkenny, Reid (K Davies, 46), Robinson, Gallagher, Garner. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Holmes, B Davies, Brownhill.
Fleetwood: Maxwell, McLaughlin, Pond, Evans, Schumacher, Hughes, Morris (Blair, 72), Sarcevic (McAlinden, 72) Proctor, Jordan, Crainey. Subs not used: Lucas, Roberts, Dobbie, Southern, Haughton.
Referee: Eddie Ilderton (Tyne and Wear)
Attendance: 13,280 (Fleetwood: 1488)