Stoke City stay top of the Championship but missed an opportunity to extend their lead to four points last night as a spirited Preston secured a victory that takes them out of the bottom three.
There were chances aplenty for Tony Pulis's side, who were chasing a sixth straight win, but their execution was found wanting. Preston's willingness to defend their two-goal first-half advantage was no better characterised than by their full-back Callum Davidson, who was outstanding in spite of an injury that required him to play the second half with four stitches in a bandaged head wound.
"I'll have nightmares about the chances we missed but you get days like this," Pulis said. "We should have had a penalty in the first half, but we were punished for giving away two silly free-kicks and we can only blame ourselves."
Preston seemed to have drawn fresh conviction from their unlucky FA Cup defeat against Portsmouth and a solid away point won at Stoke's promotion rivals, Watford. Richard Chaplow scored both their goals in the first 33 minutes, the former West Bromwich Albion midfielder forcing home his first in almost 16 months from close range before drilling in the second from 25 yards.
Each time the source was a free-kick by Paul McKenna after fouls by Ryan Shawcross. The first was met by Youl Mawene's head before Chaplow, signed for £1.35m last month, applied the finishing touch, the second catching the Stoke defence by surprise as McKenna rolled the ball to his unmarked colleague.
Stoke, as ever a threat at set pieces, had the home defence wobbling more than once and there were chances for Shawcross (twice) and Ricardo Fuller before half-time. Fuller made a dramatic appeal for a penalty, claiming Liam Chilvers brought him down.
Liam Lawrence, with an open goal in front of him early in the second half, allowed Davidson to scramble a block by trying to walk the ball into the net, before Mamady Sidibe fired over. But Chaplow should have finished them off, missing the target with a chance almost as easy as his opener.
As Stoke's night worsened, the central defender Leon Cort, who had needed stitches in a leg wound during the first half, was carried off on a stretcher after another injury to the same leg.
Preston North End (4-4-2): Lonergan; Jones, Mawene, Chilvers, Davidson; Whaley, McKenna, Chaplow (Carter, 61), Sedgwick; Brown, Hawley (Mellor, 89). Substitutes not used: Neal (gk), St Ledger, Ormerod.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Griffin, Cort (Wilkinson, 69), Shawcross, Pugh; Lawrence, Whelan (Gallagher, 80), Delap, Cresswell; Fuller, Sidibe (Parkin, 69). Substitutes not used: Diao, Dickinson.
Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland).