Preston North End vs Bristol City. Sky Bet Championship.
Report and free match action from the Sky Bet Championship match between Preston and Bristol City at Deepdale as Mark Sykes and Sam Bell scored in the first half to earn victory for the Robins on Saturday.
Saturday 4 February 2023 18:37, UK
Mark Sykes and Sam Bell's first-half goals earned Bristol City a battling 2-1 victory at Preston.
Striker Ched Evans pulled a goal back for the hosts shortly after the hour mark, but City held on after some late pressure to extend their healthy unbeaten run to eight games in all competitions.
This was Preston's fifth home league defeat in a row as their play-off hopes took a dive.
City boss Nigel Pearson made one change to his side that triumphed 3-0 over West Brom in the FA Cup at Ashton Gate last Saturday.
Defender Cameron Pring returned to the starting line-up having served his recent suspension and replaced Jay Dasilva.
Preston manager Ryan Lowe saw his side humbled 3-0 by Tottenham in the FA Cup, but stressed the league is the 'bread and butter' this season.
Lowe made one change from the Spurs loss at Deepdale, with Manchester City loan striker Liam Delap handed the chance to shine up top, while new signing Joshua Onomah started on the bench.
Everton loan striker Tom Cannon came within a whisker of firing the home side ahead after only four minutes, but he headed straight at goalkeeper Max O'Leary from close range.
And the missed proved costly as City took the lead when Sykes pounced from point-black range.
Midfielder Alex Scott's ball over the top was defended dreadfully by the hosts - and Sykes took advantage of a poor backpass from Robbie Brady which sold keeper Freddie Woodman well short.
All Sykes had to do was gratefully slot into an empty net.
Preston skipper Alan Browne had a decent shout for a penalty turned down by referee Leigh Doughty, having earlier fired a volley straight at O'Leary as the home side looked to level.
At the other end City striker Nahki Wells forced Woodman to save as the visitors pushed for a second goal.
Evans forced a smart save from O'Leary with a superb diving header, before Cannon had a shot deflected wide for a corner.
Scott saw his powerful free-kick strike the wall and deflect over via the crossbar before Bell bagged City's second in the third and final minute of first-half injury-time.
Wells was the provider as Bell coolly tapped home from close-range to stun the hosts.
O'Leary saved brilliantly from Cannon just after the restart, getting down well to tip the forward's shot past his near post.
Midfielder Joe Williams then tried his luck from distance for the visitors, before Brady had a chance to make amends for his earlier blunder, only to see his powerful right-foot strike deflected wide.
It mattered not as Evans pulled a goal back moments later.
Ryan Ledson's shot was spilled by O'Leary and Welshman Evans was there to mop up.
Brady should have equalised with 14 minutes to go, but he headed wide in a great position at the back post.
Cannon and substitute Alvaro Fernandez both had shots charged down at the death, but the hosts could not find the leveller they craved despite six minutes of injury-time at the end of a fiery contest.
Preston's Ryan Lowe:
"There are a few things which are being said which are disgusting, and I'm not here to be abused. It's probably a small minority [of fans]. Booing the lads at half-time, I don't think the lads warranted that even though it was 2-0. A few of the shouts from the sides, I'm a human and I don't want to be spoken to like that.
"It's disheartening because I thought we deserved a point, if not three. That sounds crazy because we lost 2-1, but you cannot legislate for mistakes and individual errors. The two goals we conceded were disappointing, but I can't fault the endeavour from the lads to try and get back in the game. That was pleasing. We have done everything we can but win and, ultimately, we've gifted them two goals, which you can't do. We were penetrating to get the equaliser, but we ran out of time in the end and we lacked a bit of quality in front of goal at times too."
Bristol City's Nigel Pearson:
"I'm just delighted for the players, it was good to see them celebrating with the fans because there's a real connection there. It's important our fans have a team they want to go and see.
"They're [Preston's] quality from set-plays is excellent and I thought we - to a man - stood up and made it really difficult for them. It was a tough game. We had to be up for the battle - and we were. They put us under a lot of pressure in the second half, but we showed some really quality in a tough, physical game. I was really pleased with the collective effort and our desire to win."