Preston North End 2 Norwich City 0: Doherty and Shackell give the game away

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The Independent Football

What with their eight-point lead over seventh-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers, Preston barely needed a helping hand to reach the play-offs.

They had two all the same here, though, with the first-half own goals that set up a third successive victory and sank feeble Norwich.

First, Paul McKenna's 19th minute corner from the right reached its intended targets and was headed in off his own bar by the defender Jason Shackell. Then Gary Doherty had the misfortune to stretch for Simon Whaley's searching right-wing centre and deflected under pressure from Marcus Stewart into a place the diving Robert Green could not reach.

It has been that sort of season for the Norwich goalkeeper. Chris Kirkland's injuries rather than Green's own form will see to it that he goes to the World Cup, but whether he views his decision to remain loyal to the Carrow Road cause as a wise one is another matter.

Preston's forwards did not cause him anything like as much trouble as his defenders did, but the home team always had control of a scrappy game further fragmented by the departure of three players through injury in the opening 43 minutes.

Brett Ormerod, twice, and David Hibbert missed with headers and Tyrone Mears was just off target with a terrific 30-yarder.

Norwich, without an away win in 2006, were awful. They did not have a single effort on goal - at the right end, that is - for 78 minutes until Rob Earnshaw sliced high and wide on the run. Jonatan Johansson also saw a shot deflected over, but their first campaign back in the Championship cannot end soon enough.

For Preston, the outlook is bright, as was the atmosphere, with 5,000 Billy Davies masks handed out on a club Scottish Day to honour their sizeable tartan contingent. The club might just reach the Premiership too.

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