To print arrangements for the Championship play-offs, as Charlton did in yesterday's programme, turned out to be embarrassingly premature. They remain among the contenders for that end-of-season dogfight but this deserved defeat, in which they were resoundingly booed from very early on until the final whistle, puts a dent in their ambitions of getting straight back into the Premier League.
"We are staying up," chorused Preston's large and jubilant following as their team pulled off another excellent result against a much higher-placed club to help dispel relegation fears. Charlton, though, look as if they are going nowhere.
Their manager Alan Pardew had blamed "naive passing" for the dropping of two points to Bristol City in the previous home game. To this shortcoming was added the inability against Preston to control the ball whenever they did manage to pass to a team-mate. Only the captain, Matt Holland, and Darren Ambrose could be exempted from the derision poured on the team by their supporters.
"I would have been booing some of our play today," Pardew admitted. "The XI who represented us didn't do justice to the quality and character we have in the squad."
The players will be called in for extra training today for Tuesday's game at Burnley. "I don't want them sitting at home moping around," he said, calling it his team's worst display of the season. "It was a bad day, we upset our fans and upset ourselves. We need to be a lot braver in the tackle and on the ball. This has come at a bad time for us. The pack is starting to close in."
Despite the shock of losing Liam Chilvers with a suspected snapped Achilles tendon in the warm-up, Preston were in control from the start. There had been a couple of warnings that Charlton's defence might not be up to the job against lively opponents, and a minute after Lloyd Sam limped off with a hamstring injury they were punished. Darren Carter dinked a pass to Chris Brown, who surged past Sam Sodje to sidefoot high into Nicky Weaver's net.
On his Preston debut, the lanky Tamas Priskin repeatedly had Charlton's central defenders in a tangle, with Sodje regularly culpable for errors and when he came to the sidelines after being treated for a knock Pardew emptied a bottle of water in his face, the modern day version of the magic sponge. Sadly, it failed to revive him, but there was no alternative defender on the bench to be thrown on.
With their 30-year-old captain Paul McKenna running the midfield, Preston's control was complete and they might have been several goals ahead before Charlton mounted a mini-revival midway through the second half.
Priskin was particularly culpable of failing to beat Weaver before Charlton equalised with a quarter of an hour left. A Charlton corner had not been properly cleared and home defenders McCarthy and Sodje were still in the Preston area when Holland crossed from the left, Sodje headed down and McCarthy, lying on the floor, managed to force the ball in.
The lead lasted two minutes before Brown walloped his second goal, volleying Simon Whaley's cross past Weaver.