Preston North End mathematically secured their Championship status, making it back-to-back wins thanks to Alan Browne’s second half penalty against Mark Robins’ Coventry City at St Andrews.
Browne converted from 12 yards after Ched Evans had been brought down by goalkeeper Ben Wilson, who was lucky to stay on the pitch and also very lucky not have conceded a second just minutes earlier, but the goal gave PNE a 1-0 win.
Interim head coach Frankie McAvoy made one change from the previous Tuesday’s thumping home win over Derby County, with Sean Maguire starting in attack, alongside Evans, with Tom Barkhuizen dropping back to play in the left wing back role; Greg Cunningham dropping to the bench.
The hosts made four changes from their win at Stoke City, with two injuries seeing former PNE loanee Matty James come back into the middle of the pitch and Mark Robins rotated his frontmen, with Tyler Walker and Matty Gooden replaced by Max Biamou and Viktor Gyӧkeres.
The opening 15 minutes was played, in the main, in the middle third, with neither side getting the upper hand, but on the quarter hour mark Evans had a strong shout for a penalty, as he got the right side of Dom Hyam and seemed to have his leg hooked back as he looked to race on goal, but referee Andy Woolmer saw nothing wrong.
The Sky Blues’ first opportunity came on 20 minutes as Gustavo Hamer fired a ball into the six-yard box, and Max Biamou sliding in, somehow, diverted the ball over Daniel Iversen’s bar from two yards out and a minute later they again went close as Sam McCallum fired on target from 18 yards, Ben Whiteman making a vital block to flick the ball over the bar with his head.
Stopper Wilson was called into his first save in the home side’s goal when a long throw from Barkhuizen was headed out to Whiteman 25 yards out; the goalkeeper parrying it away, falling to Evans on the rebound – at a tight angle – with Hyam making a block, before Wilson claimed.
And the keeper was obviously warmed up, as moments later the ball fell to Ryan Ledson in the middle of the ‘D’, firing a superb left-footed drive goalwards, with Wilson, at full-stretch, getting a strong right hand to tip the ball around the post and bar for the first corner of the game.
With eight minutes to go before the break a glorious chance came from another Barkhuizen throw, this time going across to the right to power the ball in, Jordan Storey clocking it on to Maguire at the back post, but his header was an inch wide of the left-hand post from five yards out.
Just before the interval Hamer was lucky to stay on the pitch with a horrible late and high tackle on Ryan Ledson from behind, the match official pulling out the first card of the game, however, it was only a yellow, when a red would not have been unfair on the Sky Blues’ No.38.
Eight minutes into the second half and the Lilywhites were denied a stonewall penalty as Sean Maguire did brilliantly on the right, threaded Maguire through and Wilson came out, missed the ball and completely took out Evans. It was as clear a penalty as you can see, but Woolmer and his assistant amazingly failed to award the spot kick.
Evans almost caught Wilson out shortly after with a brilliant half volley from 35 yards, that had the Sky Blues’ No.13 back-tracking, eventually claiming the ball under his cross bar, a tough take with the sun in his eyes.
But the penalty PNE should have been awarded minutes earlier was finally given on 67 minutes as custodian Wilson pulled down Evans, after he had got goal-side of him ten yards from the goal. This time Woolmer pointed to the spot, but he should also have red carded the goalkeeper and didn’t even get out a card!
Skipper Browne stepped up to take the penalty and sent Wilson the wrong way, firing hard and low into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal to give the greens a deserved lead.
North End pushed for a second and a Ledson free kick with five minutes left on the left touchline was met by Evans at the front post, but his flicked header was just over the right corner of post and bar and the game ended with another big three points for the Lilywhites.
Coventry City line-up: Wilson, Rose, McFadzean (c), Biamou (Godden, 62), O’Hare (Bakayoko, 74), Gyӧkeres (Walker, 62), Hyam, McCallum, James, Dacosta (Dabo, 74), Hamer (Eccles, 61). Subs not used: Marosi, Allen, Shipley, Burroughs.
PNE line-up: Iversen, van den Berg, Storey, Lindsay, Hughes, Barkhuizen, Ledson, Whiteman (Potts, 78), Browne (c), Evans (Bayliss, 90), Maguire (Riis, 66). Subs not used: Ripley, Bayliss, Molumby, Huntington, Sinclair, Cunningham, Gordon.
Referee: Mr A Woolmer