Goals from Josh Harrop and Patrick Bauer gave Preston North End three points, as they came from behind to defeat Lee Bowyer’s Charlton Athletic at Deepdale.
Andre Green, on his early return to PR1 after his loan spell, had given the Addicks an early lead, but the second stunner in the space of a week from Harrop levelled matters, before Bauer headed home from Harrop’s corner just after half-time to give his side the win against his former employers.
Ben Pearson was missing through illness and North End boss Alex Neil went with an attacking line-up in the midfielder’s absence, with Harrop in the No.10 role and Scott Sinclair given his first start in a PNE shirt on the left-hand side.
But it was returning forward Green who had the first word in the game; wing back Alfie Doughty getting down the left before a hard low cross from the edge of the box was flicked home from five yards out at the front post by the Villa loanee.
However, after this early setback the Lilywhites dominated the ball, with Declan Rudd not having to make a further save in the entire match. Daniel Johnson returned from injury and he went close to levelling matters at the opening period’s mid-way point.
A throw in from Darnell Fisher down right saw him find Harrop, who in turn cut the ball back to Johnson, who cuts inside and curls just over from 20 yards with a powerful curling effort from the right-hand corner of the penalty area.
But what the left-footer couldn’t do, Harrop managed on 31 minutes. The ball started at the back with Ben Davies, who worked it forward down the right, Harrop playing a one-two with Harrop before from the same spot that Johnson had struck, the No.10 curled a beautiful left-footed shot into the top left-hand corner for his eighth goal of the season – taking joint with DJ at the top of the North End scoring charts.
The home side were almost ahead moments later as Sinclair showed swift footwork to dance past three defenders to the edge of the ‘D’, but he didn’t quite get the perfect connection and Dillon Phillips collected, at the second attempt.
Sean Maguire had a very strong case for a penalty just four minutes into the second half when Deji Oshilaja bundled the Irishman over on the penalty spot, but referee Dean Whitestone waved ‘play on’.
But the wait for a second and what proved to be winning goal wasn’t too long as six minutes into the latter period Harrop delivered a perfect right-wing corner for Bauer to rise highest for a powerful downward header past Phillips and into the bottom corner. The German showed great respect not to celebrate against his former employers.
Whilst the visitors had a little more share of possession after going behind, they failed to threaten Rudd and in fact it was PNE, on the counter, who looked the more dangerous with substitute David Nugent going closest to adding fourth goal to the game, his half-volley from Fisher’s deflected cross being grabbed at the second attempt by Phillips at the feet of Sinclair.
The final whistle game after four added minutes, in which the Lilywhites had controlled the ball, giving them the first three points of 2020 and keeping the pressure on the teams at the top of the table.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Fisher, Rafferty, Browne (c), Bauer, Davies, Barkhuizen, Johnson (Ledson, 82), Maguire (Nugent, 64), Harrop (Potts, 90), Sinclair. Subs not used: Ripley, Clarke, Stockley, Huntington.
Charlton Athletic line-up: Phillips, Matthews, Oshilaja (Morgan, 62), Lockyer, Williams (Oztumer, 62), Pratley (c), Green (Hemed, 68), Sarr, Dempsey, Davison, Doughty. Subs not used: Maynard-Brewer, Purrington, Pearce.
Attendance: 12,358 (873 Charlton Athletic fans)
Referee: Mr D Whitestone