Preston kept up with the League One promotion contenders with a 1-0 win over Barnsley at Deepdale, courtesy of Paul Gallagher’s penalty.
John Welsh picked up a loose ball and got taken out inside the box before Gallagher scored.
Jermaine Beckford, Scott Laird and Kevin Davies all went close to doubling Preston’s lead while Dale Jennings wasted Barnsley’s best chance.
In stoppage time, only a stunning save from Thorsten Stuckmann denied Barnsley from snatching a point.
Both sides signalled their intent early on as James Bailey for Barnsley and Welsh for Preston fired long range efforts, both however found the stand rather than the back of the net.
The first big chance of the game arrived for Barnsley on five minutes. Kane Hemmings got the cross in and Leroy Lita, unmarked only ten yards out, failed to hit the target.
Preston’s first opportunity came as Jermaine Beckford headed Paul Gallagher’s free-kick towards goal, but his tame header was easily saved by Adam Davies.
Preston took the lead after 16 minutes from the penalty spot.
John Welsh was fouled after showing determination to win the ball and Gallagher calmly scored the resulting spot-kick.
After that Preston began to take control and nearly doubled their lead as Scott Laird’s cross-shot was saved but Kevin Davies, on the stretch, couldn’t convert the rebound.
The second half began in a much calmer manner than the first as Preston controlled possession for the opening minutes.
Barnsley then scuppered another big chance after 54 minutes.
Dale Jennings, the former Tranmere and Bayern Munich winger chose to shoot rather than cross where he had a teammate free ready for a tap-in.
A minute later, Beckford should have made it 2-0. Gallagher slid the ball into the path of the former Everton striker but he harmlessly dinked his effort in the grateful arms of Adam Davies.
The game had sparked into life with those two quick chances and Preston quickly piled on the pressure. Chris Humphrey and Laird both went close with a left foot strike and a header respectively.
As the end-to end action continued, Barnsley almost equalised after 69 minutes. Substitute Rhys Oates’ cross was dummied by Lita and narrowly flew past the far post.
Kevin Davies nearly sealed the win for Preston with ten minutes to go but his close range header was gathered by Adam Davies before Beckford could get a touch.
Despite the host’s dominance for the majority of the match, Barnsley nearly grabbed an equaliser in the first minute of stoppage time.
Conor Hourihane let fly from 30 yards but a fantastic fingertip save from Thorsten Stuckmann pushed the ball away.
Preston have now taken maximum points from their first two Christmas fixtures before their trip to Crewe Alexandra on Sunday.
Post-match, Preston manager Simon Grayson praised his players on a hard-fought victory and felt they were more than worthy of the three points.
“It wasn’t as free-flowing and easy on the eye as we like to do,” said Grayson, “but we have to do that sometimes.”
“We got the goal, we had some good opportunities, limited them to very few opportunities but when the defence were called upon and the goalkeeper (Stuckmann) especially at the end there, we’ve seen the game through.”
“We’ve probably played a lot better than that this season and not won matches.”
Grayson also praised Gallagher on having the confidence to take another penalty, having missed from the spot against Shrewsbury in the cup a few weeks previously.
“Gallie’s confident in his ability and I think that was the first he missed a couple of weeks ago. I suppose anywhere inside the ground would have been an improvement on the last one. It was nice to hear the roar of the crowd when it hit the back of the net and give us the good opportunity to go and win the game which we did.”
PNE Team (4-4-2): Stuckmann, Woods, Huntington, Clarke (c), Laird, Humphrey, Welsh, Kilkenny, Gallagher (Hayhurst, 81), Davies, Beckford (Little, 80′). Subs not used: Jones, Buchanan, King, Brownhill, Browne
Barnsley Team (4-4-2): Davies, Smith, Ramage, Nyatanga, Holgate, Bailey (Williams, 57), Berry, Hourihane, Jennings, Hemmings (Oates, 67), Lita (Trotta, 78). Subs not used: Dibble, Abbott, Digby, Cowgill