PNE 2–1 Birmingham: Jordan Hugill sinks ten-man Blues with double digit strike
Jordan Hugill’s 10th goal of the season handed Preston North End a crucial victory against ten-man Birmingham City at Deepdale.
Callum Robinson headed the hosts in front inside eight minutes, before Che Adams issued a response immediately after half time.
Hugill then connected with a Daryl Horgan cross 12 minutes from time to sink Gianfranco Zola’s side — now with just one win in his 13-game reign and without an away win since November.
A second booking for experienced midfielder Craig Gardner two minutes later appeared to kill off any hopes for the visitors, with a rash challenge bringing down Greg Cunningham.
With just a single point separating the two sides at kick-off, the victory pushed North End within eight points of the play-offs with 14 games remaining.
Preston enjoyed a dominant first-half and Birmingham struggled to cope with Aiden McGeady and Robinson on the attack. Hugill came close to his landmark goal with the first chance of the game, but saw his effort parried well by Tomasz Kuszczak.
But the former Manchester United keeper could do little to stop Robinson just minutes later. A whipped cross from McGeady found the head of Robinson, ensuring the Irish winger had been involved in six of his side’s last seven goals.
The Blues were unable to get into the game and looked vulnerable, with Preston manager Simon Grayson admitting his side should have made more of their dominance.
Birmingham midfielder Maikel Keiftenbeld soon saw the first booking of the game, and was fortunate to only see yellow for a dangerous challenge on Lilywhites captain Tom Clarke.
As the half-time whistle approached, City began to find their feet and forced Chris Maxwell to make his first handful of saves. A scuffle between Karim Frei and Ben Pearson resulted in the two being cautioned with the final action of the half, although tempers flared from both sides throughout the remaining 45 minutes.
Following the commotion, Adams captivated on an unsettled North End side after connecting with Lukas Jutkiewicz to beat Maxwell with a low-driven effort from outside the box.
Three further cautions and fiery play gave the suggestion that a player could soon be dismissed. Robinson saw yellow for dissent while Gardner and Adams saw yellow two minutes apart, and challenges continued to fly in.
Birmingham continued to grow into the game following their change to a 3–5–2 formation, but it left Zola’s side vulnerable at the back.
The introduction of Tom Barkhuizen provided some fresh legs for the hosts, but it was Horgan who created the winner for his second assist in Preston colours.
In a typical display from North End, who have scored a third of their goals in the final 15 minutes this season, a low cross from the Irishman found Hugill, who calmly slotted home to beat Daniel Johnson’s record of nine goals last season.
Desperate to snatch a point, City pushed and pressed with North End looking confident in their play. However, Gardner’s second bookable foul only boosted Grayson’s side further for the final ten minutes.
McGeady’s departure in the 85th minute led to a standing ovation from the home supporters after an impressive first half performance, and welcomed applause to Daniel Johnson — coming on for his 100th appearance for the club.
A late break from Johnson almost allowed Horgan to add a goal of his own, but the substitution of Hugill — also to a standing ovation — concluded a fine victory for Preston North End.
Preston: Maxwell, Browning, Clarke, Huntington, Cunningham, McGeady (Johnson 85), Browne, Pearson, Horgan, Robinson (Barkhuizen 63), Hugill (Makienok 90). Not Used: Lindegaard, Beckford, May, Boyle
Birmingham: Kuszczak, Nsue, Bielik, Grounds, Keita (Stewart 83), Kieftenbeld, Gleeson (Sinclair 89), Gardner, Frei (Dacres-Cogley 45), Adams, Jutkiewicz. Not Used: Legzdins, Robinson, Tesche, O’Keefe