Goals from Daniel Johnson and Sean Maguire saw Preston North End finish 2020 off with three straight wins, moving them up to 11th in the Championship by defeating Mark Robins’ Coventry City 2-0 at Deepdale.
Johnson, fired home from 15 yards after Maguire had forced an error in the Sky Blues defence, before finding the No.11 in the first half and then the Irishman poked home inside the six-yard box just after the interval to give Alex Neil’s side the victory.
The Lilywhites boss made one enforced changed, welcoming back Andrew Hughes, in replacement for the injured Scott Sinclair, with the side playing a back three and Maguire partnering Tom Barkhuizen in attack.
The game began in a cagey way, but the opener came on 18 minutes and the former Cork City frontman pressed the City backline and forced a mistake, before cleverly flicking the ball inside for Johnson, who checked back, steadied himself and opened his body to curl the ball past Ben Wilson into the bottom left-hand corner of the Bill Shankly Kop goal, his 50th career goal, his fourth of the season and his first from open play.
The visitors almost responded immediately, as the lively Gustavo Hamer collected the ball and fired in a well-directed shot from the edge of the penalty area, through a crowd of players, that was well-held by Declan Rudd.
After the interval North End came out strongly and in the first few minutes Paul Gallagher robbed Jamie Allen in the midfield before playing a one-to with Johnson, before threading the ball through to Barkhuizen, but his low cross was cut out for a corner.
But on 53 minutes North End doubled their advantage. Maguire was fouled on the right by Ben Sheaf and Gallagher put over an exquisite free kick that Hughes headed down, initially blocked by Wilson, but a scramble in the six-yard box ensued and the No.24 got his foot to the ball, poking it home through a crowd of players.
In the closing stages the game opened up and Hamer again threatened, a superb volley, well pushed out by Rudd, who then collected the follow up shot with five minutes left.
But with the game now stretched, it also meant PNE had chances and they could have added a third in the first of five added minutes, substitute Emil Riis combining with Barkhuizen via backheel on the left, before pulling ball back for another change, the returning Brad Potts, but his shot was blocked by Leo Ostigard and the game ended 2-0, to give a positive finish to a difficult year for everyone.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Huntington, Davies, Hughes, Fisher, Earl (Riis, 68), Browne (c) (Potts, 55), Gallagher (Ledson, 62), Hughes, Johnson, Maguire, Barkhuizen. Subs not used: Ripley, Bayliss, Harrop, Storey, Rafferty, Stockley.
Coventry City line-up: Wilson, Ostigard, McFadzean (c), Allen (Bapaga, 70), O’Hare (Shipley, 59), Sheaf (Biamou, 59), Hyam, Giles (McCallum, 70), Dabo, Godden, Hamer. Subs not used: Camp, Pask, Hilssner, Bakayoko, Da Costa.
Referee: Mr K Stroud