Squibs do not come much damper. Preston have impressed many this season, and a run of seven straight home wins suggests a team with genuine Premiership aspirations, but come their big moment, they did not so much fluff their lines as forget to open the theatre.
Thoughts of getting a better result than Cardiff - and so going top of the second flight for the first time in over 50 years - had created a crackle of anticipation. By half-time that had subsided to a chilling silence, and when the Preston midfielder Paul McKenna had a shot tipped over by Iain Turner in injury time, it produced the first sharp intake of breath that was not occasioned by a yawn. The hamstring strain suffered by Matt Hill was, by some distance, the most notable incident of a desperate first half, and although David Nugent's pace injected a level of urgency after half-time, a brief flurry of corners was as close as they came to mounting an onslaught
Turner has now kept clean sheets in both games he has played for Palace since arriving on loan from Everton and both he and his manager, Paul Simpson, were keen to praise, suggesting they are in "a false position". They would surely have hoped for more though, than to be thwarted by the simple ploy of packing seven men behind the ball. Not that Palace were complaining.
After four straight defeats, four points from two games represent a welcome return to form. "They set their stall out and made it difficult," McKenna said. "But it's another clean sheet and it keeps us ticking over."
Against a team that had won just one of their last seven away from home, though, Preston would surely have been looking for rather more than that. "You want to win every game at home, and we're a bit despondent. But that just shows how far we've come," McKenna went on.
Preston North End (4-4-2): Nash; Alexander, Chilvers, St Ledger, Hill (L Neal, 24); Whaley (Dichio, 81), Sedgwick, McKenna, Pugh; Agyemang (Ormerod 61), Nugent. Substitutes not used: C Neal (gk), Wilson.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Turner; Butterfield, Ward, Hudson, Granville; Hughes, Kennedy (Fletcher 84), Soares, McAnuff; Scowcroft (Kuqi 69), Morrison (Freedman 73). Substitutes not used: Flinders (gk), Lawrence.
Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire).
Booked: Preston Alexander; Crystal Palace Scowcroft (Crystal Palace)
Man of the match: Alexander.
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