Preston North End 0 Charlton Athletic 2: Irvine turns to Everton for guidance in Preston's hour of need

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Charlton maintained their promotion push with Zheng Zhi and substitute Luke Varney scoring in each half at Preston to take them back into the top two of the Coca-Cola Championship.

The Addicks' fourth straight win took them within five points of leaders Watford and subjected Preston boss Alan Irvine to a losing start to his managerial career.

The 49-year-old Scot took charge on Tuesday after 15 years on the coaching staff at Blackburn, Newcastle and Everton, where he was assistant to former Preston boss David Moyes.

Irvine's appointment failed to inspire the Lilywhites to a much-needed victory with his new charges having slipped to second bottom following the afternoon's results.

Zhi gave Charlton a deserved lead in first-half stoppage time with his fifth goal of the season before Varney struck at the death to kill off a spirited second-half fightback by the home side.

The Preston side featured three changes with Paul Gallagher, Brett Ormerod and captain Kevin Nicholls recalled following the dismal 3-0 defeat at home, which marked the end of Paul Simpson's tenure.

The Lilywhites made a promising start, although Charlton almost opened the scoring when Sam Sodje headed down Andy Reid's fifth-minute corner and Zhi failed to turn the ball goalwards at the far post.

Preston replied with Chris Sedgwick nodding down Gallagher's cross for Andy Carroll, who could only poke the ball straight at goalkeeper Nicky Weaver.

Charlton named an unchanged side and their 4-5-1 system worked well, with Jerome Thomas finding space on the left and Zhi pushing forward from midfield.

Grant Basey's deep cross found Zhi in the 23rd minute and his glancing header was turned wide by Preston keeper Andy Lonergan, before the China international had a 20-yard shot deflected over in the 27th minute.

Although Preston troubled Weaver with a couple of high corners, Charlton were soon back on the attack, with Sean St Ledger having to block Lloyd Sam's low drive after a well-worked move on Charlton's right.

But the Addicks were not to be denied shortly after as Zhi pounced on Thomas's low left-wing centre and fired left-footed into the far corner.

Preston re-emerged in determined mood, with Gallagher's fierce 20-yard strike beaten away by Weaver five minutes after the restart, before Sedgwick blazed over following Ormerod's left-wing cross.

Sedgwick then met a deep cross from substitute Simon Whaley in the 70th minute, but Weaver showed great reflexes to tip the ball over.

Patrick Agyemang, another Preston substitute, then sent a well-executed overhead kick wide, while Nicholls fired over from the edge of the box with 10 minutes left.

Whaley's 20-yard strike forced a fine diving save from Weaver at the start of added time before Charlton sealed the points.

Chris Iwelumo released Varney down the right and he side-footed past Lonergan.

Goals: Zheng (45) 0-1; Varney (90) 0-2.

Preston North End (4-4-2): Lonergan; Halls, Mawene, St Ledger, Davidson; Sedgwick, Nicholls (Carter, 83), McKenna, Gallagher (Whaley, 64); Ormerod (Agyemang, 70), Carroll. Substitutes not used: Neal (gk), Chilvers.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-1-1) Weaver; Mills, Sodje, Fortune, Basey; Sam (Ambrose, 82), Semedo (Holland, 74), Reid (Varney, 84), Thomas; Zheng; Iwelumo. Substitutes not used: Randolph (gk), Bougherra.

Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).

Booked: Preston McKenna; Charlton Zheng.

Man of the match: Zheng.

Attendance: 12,532.