Jordan Hugill secured a third home win in a row for Preston North End, as his winning goal downed 10-man Queens Park Rangers at Deepdale in a 2-1 win.
The 11-goal striker’s winner came after Aiden McGeady had sent the Lilywhites into half-time all square with the visitors, cancelling out Kazenga LuaLua’s opening goal for the Hoops.
Simon Grayson made two changes to the side that drew with 0-0 with Wigan Athletic last Saturday, both enforced as Tyias Browning and Ben Peasrson were both ruled out through injury, in coming Daniel Johnson and Tommy Spurr to replace them.
The first 15 minutes of the match were a non-event, with both outfits trying to get a foot hold in the game.
Referee David Coote was busy with the whistle early on but when Paul Huntington and Matt Smith wrestled each other to the ground in the North End box, Coote chose to play on, to the furore of the QPR target man.
North End had a fantastic chance to go ahead with half an hour played. Daryl Horgan, playing in an unfamiliar role of right wing-back, whipped a corner into the danger zone, but Greg Cunningham’s powerful header was fantastically turned over the bar by Hoops stopper Alex Smithies.
And it would be that chance that would cost PNE five minutes later.
From what looked like it would be a routine clearance from a long throw-in, the ball squeezed its way through Spurr’s legs in the home box, and Kazenga LuaLua, on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion, trickily back heeled the ball beyond the stretch of Chris Maxwell to give the Londoners the lead.
Preston’s main attacking outlet Aiden McGeady had been quiet throughout the first half, but like he did against Brentford two weeks previous, he unleashed a piece of magic to see North End into half time all square.
Collecting the ball from Cunningham outside the box, the Irishman’s silky footwork saw him avoid the challenges of two opposition players, before curling the ball into the far corner beautifully, beyond the reach of Smithies between the posts.
The Lilywhites continued their pressure going into the second half, and Cunningham, now playing in an unfamiliar right-back role with Grayson reverting to a 4-4-2 formation, saw his curling effort in the penalty area evade his teammates before going out for a goal kick.
It was Cunningham again who found himself furthest forward on 63 minutes, scuffing a shot across goal, but Callum Robinson was on hand to turn the ball in from just a few yards out.
Robinson, who this week found out he was eligible to play for the Republic of Ireland, was ruled offside when Cunningham played the ball across though, and the scores stayed level.
They stayed level for all of seven minutes.
Another Horgan corner proved dangerous, this time Hugill connected with it at the front post with an outstretched left boot.
Smithies was alert to the chance and got down low to stop it, but the 24-year old made no mistake with his second effort, firing the ball into the roof of the net.
PNE’s leading man probably should have doubled his tally a few minutes later, as Robinson found him in acres of space in the box with the outside of his boot, but somehow was beaten to the ball by Joel Lynch as he was about to turn the ball home.
Desperate for an equaliser, Ian Holloway threw players forward, but saw his side reduced to 10 men with 12 minutes to go.
Already on a booking after pulling back McGeady in the first half, Luke Freeman landed an alleged stamp on the shin of Spurr in front of the benches, and more importantly in the view of the referee, who gave Freeman his marching orders.
Despite the one-man disadvantage, the R’s should’ve really equalised with just five minutes remaining.
After North End squandered a chance at one end, the ball suddenly found its way down the pitch towards substitute Yemi Ngbakoto, but when one-on-one with Maxwell, lost all composure and fired the ball over the crossbar and into the travelling fans.
The last five minutes of the match were all North End, who ghosted forward in numbers searching for a third goal, and with the fresh legs of Tom Barkhuizen, almost grabbed one.
After McGeady’s cross was turned onto the crossbar by the outstretched boot of QPR’s Lynch, the January capture from Morecambe was too hot for the defence to handle, but his mazy run didn’t result in a goal, he guided his effort straight at Smithies.
Barkhuizen was again involved in North End’s final chance to make the game truly safe. His cross-field ball found man of the match McGeady in acres of space on the wing, his cross picked out Robinson all alone in the box, but it somehow creeped under his foot and away from goal.
Preston North End: Maxwell, Cunningham, Spurr, Browne, Clarke (c), Huntington, Horgan (Barkhuizen, 86), Johnson, Robinson, Hugill, McGeady. Subs not used: Lindegaard, Makienok, Beckford, Gallagher, May, Boyle.
Queens Park Rangers: Smithies, Freeman, Bidwell, Onuoha (c), Lynch, Wszolek, Smith (Sylla 67), Perch, LuaLua (Mackie, 73), Furlong (Ngbakoto, 68), Manning. Subs not used: Ingram, Goss, Luongo, Petrasso.