Tony Mowbray will not have to look far to pin-point where it all went wrong if the West Bromwich Albion manager is forced to conduct an inquest at the end of the season into why his side missed out on automatic promotion.
Zoltan Gera's stunning 25-yard finish had dragged the Championship leaders back on level terms at Deepdale but a string of missed chances proved costly as Karl Hawley hit the winner for Preston, who finished with nine men after Youl Mawene and Chris Brown were dismissed in an action-packed encounter.
"We try to make it hard to stop teams from scoring against us, but it shouldn't really have mattered because of the number of chances we created," said Mowbray, after his side squandered an ideal opportunity to put daylight between themselves and their rivals at the top of the table.
Preston had lost four of their previous five league games yet turned the table upside down by taking a sixth minute lead when Mawene leapt above the Albion defence to head home.
West Bromwich clearly missed Kevin Phillips, their leading scorer, as they struggled to breakdown North End's defence in the opening 45 minutes but it was a different story after Simon Whaley had been denied by the woodwork from making it 2-0 in the dying moments of the first half.
Gera equalised with an unstoppable 25-yard drive in the early stages of the second half, but just as the game looked to be heading West Bromwich's way, North End stunned the visitors by taking the lead for the second time in the 71st minute when Hawley turned the ball over the line from close range .
Alan Irvine, the Preston manager, was angry with referee Kevin Stroud for reducing his side to nine men. Mawene, who had earlier been booked, was dismissed in bizarre circumstances in the 84th minute as the Baggies prepared to take a free kick just outside the North End penalty area.
"Youl had been injured in an an incident and we were trying to get him some treatment but weren't allowed to," said Irvine. "He was trying to be the ultimate professional and stay on and help us defend a free-kick but I think the referee saw it as him being deliberately slow leaving the field of play."
Preston North End (4-4-2): Lonergan; St Ledger, Mawene, Chilvers, Davidson; Sedgwick, McKenna, Carter, Whaley; Brown, Hawley. Substitutes not used: Chaplow, Hill, L Neal, C Neal, Mellor.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-1-1): Kiely; Hoefkens, Albrechtsen, Cesar, Robinson; Gera, Koren, Greening, Morrison; Teixeira; Bednar. Substitutes not used: Steele, Barnett, Beattie, MacDonald, Brunt.
Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).Reuse content