Hat-trick hero Joe Garner fired Preston North End to a 3-0 victory over Swindon Town but the Lilywhites’ promotion battle will go down to the wire.
Despite Garner’s heroics over promotion rivals Swindon North End’s return to the second tier of English football hinges on next Sunday’s clash at Colchester.
Results elsewhere mean PNE still need to equal MK Dons result at Colchester next Sunday to ensure promotion to the Championship.
Unfortunately for North End the champagne is on ice after third-placed MK Dons beat Rochdale 3-2 leaving PNE one point ahead with just one game to go.
Garner set the tone for the afternoon in front of 17,269 fans at Deepdale as he struck in just the second minute.
He beat the offside trap and fished Gallagher’s fizzing cross out of the air before thumping the ball past Tyrell Belford.
Garner headed home in first-half stoppage time to give North End a two goal cushion.
Jermaine Beckford stormed into the box but his strike clattered back off the bar fortuitously into the path of Garner who headed home the rebound with ease to complete his third hat-trick of the season and score his 26th goal of the campaign.
Simon Grayson made one change to the side that beat Notts County 3-1 on Tuesday night as Chris Humphrey replaced Callum Robinson in the starting XI.
North End could not have asked for a better start as Garner beat the offside trap to pluck Gallagher’s pin-point cross out of the air and smash the ball past Belford in the second minute.
Garner nearly made it two in the 23rd minute but his fierce shot from just outside the box agonisingly skimmed past the left post.
Jack Barthram was booked for a lunging tackle on Garner.
Jack Stephens bundled Garner over in the box as he tried to reach Gallagher’s cross in the 39th minute but referee Gary Sutton waved away that claim.
But Jordan Turnbull was booked minutes later for upending Garner on the right wing.
Humphrey’s cross was nearly bundled over by Gallagher in the six-yard box and the loose ball fell agonisingly out of Garner’s reach.
Beckford spun and shot but his close range effort was stopped by Town keeper Belford’s foot.
But man-of-the-moment Garner popped up to ensure the Lilywhites had a two goal cushion at half-time. The striker stole in unmarked to head home Gallagher’s set-piece in firs-half stoppage time.
PNE started the second half lively. Garner beat his man at the front post and connected with Humphrey’s cross but the striker nodded the ball just wide of the right post.
Garner completed his hat-trick moments later as he pounced on the rebound from Beckford’s shot. Beckford sprinted towards the back line and his shot bounced back off the bar into the path of Garner who headed the ball home in the 51st minute.
Gallagher crossed the ball into the box for Garner but the striker’s header flew way off target in the 65th minute.
Laird’s cross just missed Beckford and a Swindon midfielder tumbled over the ball allowing Gallagher to pounce on the loose ball at the top of the box but he fired the ball over the bar.
Substitute Kevin Davies headed Gallagher’s corner over the bar in the 83rd minute and the veteran striker headed straight at Belford after beating his marker at the back post in the 88th minute.
PNE: Johnstone, Clarke, Wright, Huntington, Laird, Johnson, Welsh (Kilkenny, 86), Gallagher, Humphrey, Beckford (Robinson, 81) Garner (K Davies, 76). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Wiseman, Woods, Ebanks-Blake.
Swindon: Belford, Stephens, Turnbull, M Smith (Cooke, 83), Barker (Williams, 55) Barthram, Hylton, Rodgers (T Smith, 70) Randall, Marshall, Ricketts. Subs not used: C Belford, Jones, Antonio, Wood.
Referee: Gary Sutton (Lincolnshire)
Attendance: 17,621 (727 away)