Preston North End hold the advantage after the first leg of their League One play-off semi-final against Chesterfield.
Jermaine Beckford’s goal in the sixth minute at the Proact Stadium means Simon Grayson’s men take a slender 1-0 aggregate lead into the second leg at Deepdale on Sunday.
In an entertaining and at times fiery encounter, North End battled hard against a spirited home side, who finished 20 points behind PNE in the final league table
At times they were forced to defend for their lives, but the back the visitors’ back three of Paul Huntington, Bailey Wright and skipper Tom Clarke held firm.
North End got off to a great start when they opened the scoring with their first real attack of the game in the sixth minute.
Chris Humphrey’s sweeping pass from the right was cleverly dummied by Joe Garner, which gave Jermaine Beckford a clear run on goal.
The former Leeds man was calmness personified as he lifted the ball over the on-coming Chesterfield goalkeepe Tommy Lee.
North End continued to have the better of the opening few minutes and Garner tested Lee with angled shot after linking-up well with Beckford in the 11th minute.
Seven minutes later, former Blackpool defender Ian Evatt was forced into a fine block seven to thwart a goalbound effort from Garner after good play from Daniel Johnson and Scott Laird.
The visitors certainly had the better of the opening 20 minutes, but the Spireites sprung into life in the 21st minute when a brilliant last-ditch block from skipper Tom Clarke prevented the Spireites from equalising.
Tendayi Darikwa got free down the right, he cut the ball back to Gary Roberts who steadied himself before unleashing a shot which had goal written all over it until Clarke threw his body in the way of the ball.
Chesterfield began to get a grip of the game and started causing North End problems.
Play was held up around the half-hour mark when players from both sides were involved in a scuffle after Gallagher fouled Robert.
The Chesterfield man appeared to grab PNE playmaker around the throat, but referee Mark Heywood decided to keep his cards in his pocket.
From the resulting free-kick delivered by Roberts, Evatt headed tamely into the hands of Sam Johnstone.
Immeditely afterwards, Humphrey broke clear down right, got to the by-line and centred for Beckford, whose spectaculative overhead kick was easily saved by Lee.
Garner flashed a shot across goal in the 36th minute and two minutes later, at the other end, Dan Gardner shot straight at Johnstone.
Four minutes before the break, Gallagher got in behind the Spireites’ defence but seemed to get the ball stuck under his feet and screwed his shot wide.
In the 43rd minute, Johnstone had to be on his toes to beat out Gardner’s fierce drive from 25 yards and
And as the fourth official signalled four minutes of stoppage time, Preston had to defend for their lives as the ball pinballed around their penalty area.
Chesterfield were lucky not to be reduced to 10 men when Jimmy Ryan appeared to elbow Gallagher after the two players had been grappling for the ball.
Much to the amazement of the travelling supporters, refereee Mr Haywood decided to yellow card both players.
In the 54th minute, Beckford screwed his shot wide of the near post when well positioned on the edge of the area.
Moments later, North End’s goal lived a charm life as first Roberts shot was cleared by John Welsh in the six-yard box and the same played tricked his way inside the visitors’ penalty area before flashing a fierce drive across Johnstone’s goal.
Sam Clucas headed Gardner’s cross wide in the 68th minute, but a minute later Beckford should have made it 2-0 when he was sent clear by Garner with only Lee to beat.
Unfortunately, the PNE forward did not get hold of his shot and it was an easy save for the Spireites’ keeper.
With 15 minutes to go, Roberts threatened once more for Chesterfield, but his spinning shot was turned away by Johnstone.
The home side should have drawn level with eight minutes of normal time to go, but substitute Ollie Banks fired over at the back post after great work by Clucas on the Two minutes later, Garner failed to connect with his shot in the area after Johnson had beat the offside trap and centred from the right.
Chesterfield: Tommy Lee, Ian Evatt, Samy Morsy (c), Tendayi Darikwa, Jimmy Ryan, Sam Hird (Banks 77), Dan Gardner, Daniel Jones, Jay O’Shea (Gnanduillet 88), Gary Roberts, Sam Clucas
Subs: Drew Talbot, Charlie Raglan, Ollie Banks, Gboly Ariyibi, Richie Humphreys, Byron Harrison, Armand Gnanduillet
Booked: Ryan (49)
Preston: Sam Johnstone, Tom Clarke (c), Bailey Wright, Paul Huntington, Scott Laird (Woods 77), Chris Humphrey, John Welsh, Paul Gallagher (kilkenny 77), Daniel Johnson, Jermaine Beckford (Robinson 87), Joe Garner
Subs: Scott Wiseman, Thorsten Stuckmann, Calum Woods, Kevin Davies, Neil Kilkenny, Jordan Hugill, Callum Robinson.
Booked: Gallagher (49)
Referee: Mr Mark Heywood