By Jack Wynne – Sports Editor
PNE suffered a first defeat in four matches, losing 2-1 to relegation-threatened Fulham at Deepdale.
Fulham were ahead inside the first five minutes, top scorer Ross McCormack latching onto a lofted pass from Tim Ream and springing clear of the Preston defence before knocking the ball past Anders Lindegaard.
Substitute Marnick Vermijl equalized for PNE midway through the second half, racing into the box before firing the ball past Marcus Bettinelli at the near post.
Moussa Dembele put Fulham back in front, knocking in the rebound after Lindegaard couldn’t keep hold of McCormack’s free-kick.
PNE manager Simon Grayson named an unchanged side following the derby victory at Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers last weekend.
Joe Garner had an early sight of goal aiming a powerful header at goal from inside the box, which Bettinelli pushed over the bar, following Paul Gallagher’s free-kick from distance.
The Cottagers gained the advantage, when McCormack put them ahead in the 5th minute, latching onto Ream’s through ball before skipping past Lindegaard and firing into the back of the net.
Jordan Hugill almost made Bettinelli pay after punching the ball straight to the North End striker but Tim Ream was there to block his volley.
Paul Gallagher looked to test Bettinelli but his arrowing shot from long-range sailed over the bar and into the stand.
Garner had a chance to shoot six yards from goal, after Adam Reach’s cross found him at the back post but Bettinelli was quick to smother the ball and avert the danger.
Garner wasted another opportunity, latching onto Gallagher’s corner before directing the ball straight over the bar from inside the box.
Fulham started quick off the blocks in the second half, McCormack firing a venomous shot from inside the box towards the top-right corner and stinging the palms off Lindegaard.
Paul Huntington got on the end of Gallagher’s corner but his header was tame and landed straight into the hands of Bettinelli.
Vermijl pulled North End level just after the hour mark, dancing past two Fulham players before drilling the ball beyong Bettinelli at the near post from inside the box.
Dembele restored the visitors’ lead in the 73rd minute, tapping in from close range after Lindegaard couldn’t keep hold of McCormack’s free-kick from the edge of the box.
Gallagher looked to pull PNE level once more, his curling effort sailing straight into the stand from inside the box.
After the match, Grayson criticized Fulham for their time-wasting tactics and thought his side did more than enough to win the match once they had drawn level.
He admitted they made a bad start, conceding an early goal and the two injuries in the first half didn’t help matters but when Marnick Vermijl scored the equalizer, they looked favourites to go and win.
PNE: Lindegaard, Clarke (Huntington, 11), Wright, Cunningham, Woods (Vermijl, 22), Pearson, Gallagher, Browne, Reach, Hugill (Beckford, 67) and Garner. Subs not used: Kirkland, Johnson, Robinson and Doyle.
Fulham: Bettinelli, Fredericks, Madl, Amorebieta, Ream (Stearman, 45), Cairney (O’Hara, 58), Parker, Ince, Tunnicliffe, McCormack and Dembele. Subs not used: Lonergan, Burn, Baird, Garbutt and Smith.
Referee: Scott Duncan (Northumberland)