A 5-0 defeat at Gillingham on the first day and an opening run of five games without a win did not augur well for Preston North End's chances.
After their heroics last season, when they reached the First Division play-off final in their first campaign at this level for 19 years, it seemed that David Moyes and his team were being rapidly brought down to earth.
Moyes, however, is one of the brightest young managers in the game and did not panic. He knew the qualities that had taken his side to the brink of the Premiership had not vanished. The faith he kept in his team has been rewarded with a dramatic turnaround, Saturday's deserved win at Deepdale extending their current unbeaten run to 10 matches.
Like several of their promotion rivals, Preston look modest on paper but are formidable opponents on the pitch. Hard-working and well-organised, with great emphasis on teamwork, Moyes' team seem well equipped to sustain their challenge. Sean Gregan, the captain, was their driving force, dominating the midfield with calm authority, while Richard Cresswell and David Healy threatened in attack.
The resilient qualities Preston showed earlier in the season were evident as they turned around a match in which nothing seemed to be going their way. Despite dominating the first half, in which they hit the woodwork twice, Preston trailed at half-time to Dougie Freedman's 16th minute goal, the Palace striker beating David Lucas after a slip by Lee Cartwright. If Aki Riihilahti had converted a glorious chance in the first minute of the second half, the contest might have been over. Preston, however, stuck to their task, although both of their goals were down to errors by Matt Clarke. Cresswell headed into an empty net for the equaliser after the Palace goalkeeper failed to reach Graham Alexander's cross and the same cast staged the winner. Clarke, having bravely blocked one Cresswell shot, unnecessarily pulled down the Preston striker as he attempted to follow up and Alexander converted the penalty.
Palace's performance was an improvement on their midweek defeat at Gillingham, but the lack of defensive cover – Tony Popovic has been with Australia and Jamie Smith is recovering after an operation – is beginning to tell. Black was regularly exposed at wing-back and Christian Edwards, on loan from Nottingham Forest, has failed to shore up a creaking defence.
Having a manager would help. While Simon Jordan, the Palace chairman, has been admirably resolute in his determination to stop Steve Bruce breaking his contract and leaving for Birmingham, his team need the leadership that only a permanent manager can bring. The sooner Palace are able to address the weaknesses in their squad the sooner they can get their promotion campaign back on track.
Goals: Freedman (15) 0-1; Cresswell (51) 1-1; Alexander pen (80) 2-1.
Preston (4-4-2): Lucas; Alexander, Murdock, Lucketti, Edwards; Cartwright, Gregan, Rankine, McKenna; Cresswell, Healy (Basham, 89). Substitutes not used: Lonergan (gk), Eaton, Keane, Anderson.
Crystal Palace (5-3-2): Clarke; Black, Edwards, Austin, Mullins, Gray; Riihilahti, Kirovski, Rodger; Freedman, Morrison. Substitutes not used: Kolinko (gk), Berhalter, Harrison, Kabba, Thomson.
Referee: P Rejer (Leamington Spa).
Bookings: Crystal Palace: Gray, Clarke
Man of the match: Gregan.
Attendance: 15, 264.Reuse content