Preston North End made it three wins on the bounce beating Coventry City, in a scrappy affair on a cold night at Deepdale.
Last time out, North End relied on a 96th minute winner from Alan Browne to see off the ten men of Derby County, but results have been improving after a mixed start to the season.
The Sky Blues, on the other hand, have become the Championship’s draw specialists. Despite only one defeat in their last nine games six draws, including the Boxing Day clash with Stoke, have kept them rooted in the lower half of the table. Tonight didn’t make for good reading either with City never recording a victory at Deepdale.
Preston manager Alex Neil made only one change to the side that saw off Derby, with top goalscorer Scott Sinclair replaced by Andrew Hughes due to injury.
City manager Mark Robbins only named one change too, with Ryan Giles coming in for Sam McCallum.
The Lilywhites zipped the ball round well during the opening exchanges, and could’ve created a good chance but Daniel Johnson’s through ball was put behind for a corner. It was Coventry however, who had the first chance. The ball was worked out to Brazilian Gustavo Hamer whose shot from 30 yards out was tame and easy to gather for Declan Rudd.
City’s wingbacks were working the ball well down the flanks, but their crosses were unable to find any blue shirts.
Preston took the lead in the 18th minute with Sean Maguire catching Ben Sheaf in possession and slipping the ball to Johnson who cut inside and finished from close range. A lapse of concentration in defence had cost Coventry a cheap goal as, so far, Preston hadn’t really created anything.
The visitors almost responded immediately when Fankaty Dabo broke down the right. He played in the ball finding Matt Godden who slipped the ball to Hamer, but again the shot was a comfortable save for Rudd.
Hamer had another chance when Jack O’hare’s cut back found him on the edge of the area, but it was blocked and cleared away. O’hare had made himself busy in the opening half an hour buzzing around the heart of the City midfield.
Preston could have made it two when Johnson’s cross found Browne, but his header was straight at the keeper.
Again, Coventry’s wingbacks were the main source of anything good done by the Midlands side in the first half. Dabo whipped in a wicked low ball, but it came to nothing. That was the last of any real action in the first half. Preston looked very comfortable and showed much more quality than their opponents in the opening 45 minutes.
City could’ve drawn level soon after the restart. Dabo again found space down right but his cross swerved and was well palmed away by Rudd. It was then their other wingback who created a chance, when Ryan Giles found O’hare who headed over.
Preston however, added a second shortly after. Paul Gallagher swung in a free kick that was headed goal-wards by Hughes, it was blocked but pinged between the Coventry defenders before being poked home by Sean Maguire.
This seem to take the wind out and the game began to get scrappy, with both sides giving away cheap fouls.
It was almost 20 minutes before the visitors mustered another chance. Defender Jamie Allen latched onto a clearance but his shot blazed over.
The hosts could have had a third goal shortly after when Emil Riis Jakobsen headed narrowly over from a cross.
The introductions of Sam McCallum and Max Biamou helped Coventry to control play more as they pushed to find a way back into the game. Biamou was almost in when he latched onto a through ball but defender Ben Davies marshalled the ball behind. A string of corners followed and, from the last one, the ball found Leo Ostigard who smashed the header over from six yards out.
Perhaps Coventry’s best chance was their final one. Gustavo Hamer struck a fierce shot from 25 yards that was pushed clear by Rudd, the ball squirmed to McCallum but he got his shot wrong and it was an easy save for the keeper. That was the last of any real action and Preston won the game by two goals to nil.
A professional performance from Preston who move up to 11th in the table. What will be most pleasing to Alex Neil is three clean sheets on the bounce. Preston’s leaky defence is starting to tighten up and limit sides to very few good chances.
The Lilywhites now find themselves only four points from the playoffs and with the visit of a poor Nottingham Forest side on Saturday, things could be looking up for North End.
For Coventry, while seven points clear from the drop zone, this performance highlighted a lack of quality and naivety in the squad. Numerous times during the game players got the basics wrong, most notably Hamer, who went from a bursting run one minute to giving the ball away the next. With a visit to Millwall at the Den up next for Robbins men, it will be a key test to show whether his side belongs at this level.