Preston North End 0 - West Bromwich Albion 1
A dubious late penalty decision was enough to give Albion three points at Deepdale after a Preston side depleted by injuries and illness had done well to contain them for almost the whole game.
Albion were unchanged from the midweek win over Bristol City, and had made all three subs in an effort to win before Preston keeper Declan Rudd appeared to trip Kyle Edwards, though replays showed there was little actual contact. Not that it bothered Charlie Austin as Rudd dived a little early and gave him the chance for a cool finish.
Albion regained top spot in the table, two points clear of Leeds and a very pleasant seven ahead of Fulham in third.
We got away with one tonight. Dominant in the first half, without an incisive finish to turn our superiority into a lead, we allowed Preston to grow in the second half. The game ebbed away, looking more and more like it would end nil-nil, until Super Slav got Edwards, Austin and Krov on.
Those subs restored our superiority in midfield and it was Edwards's fresh legs that took him beyond their last man and almost beyond goalie Rudd. It looked to most like a stumble or perhaps even a dive, but the ref, God bless him, pointed to the spot. Cool-foot Austin stepped up and stroked us back into top spot. Despite Preston's injuries this was a big win and handed Preston their first home loss.
It just gets better and better, even when we are not 100%.
A game that ultimately resulted in an impressive win during which we faced a different set of challenges.
Bilic went with the same starting 11 as against Bristol and there could be few complaints.
We started really well and pretty much dominated the first half but it was clear from the opening 15 that Preston were going to be extremely well organised, disciplined and aggressive - playing like an away team and rarely allowing more than 3 players to attack in our half.
I thought they closed the space well, doubled up on our creative players and got their defensive positions well when we did manage to cross it.
I think that, combined with it being a cold night with I'm sure some cold feet in that opening period meant that although we were on top they restricted us to half chances from distance - apart from one Bartley effort from a set play when he really should have done a lot better.
Towards the end of the first half we really penned them but couldn't find that final pass and, although not to single him out, players like Sawyers were perhaps a little bit conservative in their choice of passing.
I also thought that we missed Furlong's rampaging and relentless width on the right as an out ball but Ferguson is simply too good to leave out, so we can't complain.
Second half I thought Preston were the better team for the opening 20 - the low block was flipped and they pressed a very high line. It was a gamble, for example they nearly scored a spectacular own goal due to a very simple high punt that HRK chased down, but it did really squeeze up on our midfield and they won most second balls. During this period SJ made a really excellent save, tipping the ball around the post. Ferguson also made an incredible block to keep our clean sheet intact.
I thought Bilic perhaps subbed Phillips, whose robust power was probably more effective on the night than Diangana's quick feet, a little bit early but Edwards came on and did give us some direct pace, forcing them back a bit.
And really after we saw out their spell of pressure well the tide went back the other way and we controlled the match. As Austin and Krov were introduced we kept working the ball and we did get into good situations but the final pass from Pereira, Edwards or Sawyers wasn't quite there and it seemed a little bit like we were trying to walk it in rather than wallop it when there was a chance. Deep into injury time as Preston stepped up high to see the game out Edwards managed to break the lines and won a dubious penalty having beaten the keeper to the ball - soft, harsh on Preston but the keeper was nowhere near the ball. Austin coolly slotted home and put us back on the top of the table.
Job done and Preston's unbeaten home form vanquished - you're not going to sweep every team away especially if they play like the away team at home.
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