Michael O’Neill’s Stoke City will be bitterly disappointed after two mistakes saw Preston North End take all three points in ST4, ending the Potters’ run of six league games unbeaten at the bet365 Stadium.
The Potters had not defeated Preston since 2008, but looked favourites to win this affair after a positive first half against Play-Off hopefuls.
However, after twice failing to clear their lines, the Potters fell two goals down in the second half, both close-range finishes from skipper Alan Browne and then Tom Barkhuizen – his fourth in four league games.
The goals were enough to secure the Lancashire side’s first double over Stoke for almost 20 years.
It was not the result Stoke wanted to commemorate one year to the day since Stoke and England legend Gordon Banks OBE passed away; remembered with flowers across his stature and a double-page spread in the matchday programme.
Nevertheless, a win for the Potters tonight in Banks’ honour would have extended their four-point gap from the drop zone.
Preston had their own ambitions to worry about, though, and carried firepower from Deepdale, being at the business end of the Sky Bet Championship.
After a slow start, the visitors had the first chance of the night as Scott Sinclair played through Sean Maguire, only to be flagged offside.
The Potters had been enjoying fine home form and spirits were high around the ground; a children’s African drumming band created a party atmosphere outside The Franklyn Stand.
The lively atmosphere and Stoke’s high press forced their in-form visitors into mistakes, as Daniel Johnson’s misplaced pass let Nick Powell feed James McClean down the left, who crossed to Tyrese Campbell, but Ben Davies slid in to keep the scores level.
This sparked Stoke into life, as Sam Clucas had a goal-bound volley blocked, before Tyrese Campbell’s curled effort was brilliantly saved by Declan Rudd, who then reacted quickly to save Joe Allen’s rebound header.
In the first half hour, Stoke looked more like the side hunting for the top six and had lost just one league game in 2020. Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Know’ rang around the bet365 Stadium before the teams came out, and rightly so.
Michael O’Neill’s side were in no mood of slowing down this evening either, as Joe Allen fired over the bar from a corner.
Down the other end, Jack Butland hardly had to make a save in the first 45’, sporting goalkeeper gloves that read ‘Banksy – another respectful nod to the late World Cup winner.
Red and white stripes continued to dominate proceedings early in the second half, as James Chester headed wide from a corner.
Campbell then squandered a huge chance for the hosts, shooting agonisingly wide on the turn from 15-yards out.
But one mistake from the Potters saw Preston go ahead just before the hour mark. Stoke did not deal with a rare North End corner and Browne made them pay.
Stoke almost levelled through substitute Sam Vokes, who headed Clucas’ clipped cross straight at Rudd, after McClean and Preston’s Ben Pearson both went into the referee’s book after an off-the-ball scuffle.
Barkhuizen forced a smart save from Butland with 20 minutes remaining, but the striker came alive again five minutes later, reacting quickest to Ben Davies’ header from another problematic Preston cross.
The defeat leaves Stoke where they were at the start of the night, just with 90 minutes less in the countdown to 2nd May.