A dramatic late winner at Liberty Way for new signing Katie Brusell helped secure three points for Preston North End Women in a closely-fought 1-0 win against Nuneaton Town.
North End currently top the FA Women’s Premier League Northern Division by six points from Nottingham Forest, though they have played two games more.
The Lilywhites, however, have a vastly superior goal-difference in the race for the title.
Nicola Foskett’s claim for a penalty for Town could have changed the outcome of the game midway through the second half.
The striker felt PNE’s Charlotte Farrell dragged her down inside the penalty box, but to Nuneaton’s dismay, the referee waved away the protests.
Instead, it was Brusell who popped up to score the decisive goal to disappoint the Nuneaton camp following a superb battling performance.
Manager Luke Swindlehurst made three changes to his North End starting line-up ahead of the game.
Jenna Carroll and Gemma Watson returned to the squad after missing out in last week’s 2-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest, and Brusell made her club debut following her arrival from Liverpool.
Danielle Young’s corner from the right was the first dangerous ball into the penalty area for PNE, but Farrell’s header could not guide the ball goalwards.
Nuneaton were in high spirits following their impressive victory against Huddersfield Town the previous week, and it was the hosts who looked the more threatening going forward in the opening stages.
Watson’s ball over to Brusell was headed on by the debutant, finding Lagan Makin running on to it, but she could only shoot wide with just the goalkeeper to beat.
Nuneaton came the closest to scoring with a looping shot over Dan Brown but the North End goalkeeper somehow managed to get a touch on the ball and claw the shot out for a corner.
The stalemate at half-time may have come as quite a surprise for Swindlehurst’s side after the 13-0 drubbing Nuneaton received against North End at the start of January.
In the 48th minute, Hannah Forster’s sliding tackle outside the home team’s penalty box allowed Makin free on goal once more.
But Makin snatched at her shot and fired high over the bar.
It was Makin again who was given time to shoot – this time her shot found the target from the edge of the penalty box, but a good save from Christie averted the danger.
An unusual change of formation for Swindlehurst’s side came with five minutes left. Keeleigh Savage came off the bench to play as the second striker, leaving only three in defence.
Just as the game looked to be petering out into a draw, Brusell set her sights on goal from just outside the penalty box as she smashed the ball past Christie in the Nuneaton goal.
PNE: Brown, Swarbrick (Stanfield 66), Forshaw, Farrell, Carroll (Savage 85), H. Forster, Walker (Turner 78), Young, Watson, Makin, Brusell
Nuneaton Town: Christie, Belcher, McCook, Fowler, Stephens (Deacon 73), McKinde, Robyn, Steele, Rowles, McGuckin, Foskett