For the second time this season, Preston showed the character that could turn them from nearly men into a promotion side by winning a game in the hardest possible way.
Just as they did at Ipswich in October, North End went two goals down to a side with promotion aspirations of their own and still managed to emerge victorious. It means that Preston are still lurking on Derby's and Birmingham's shoulders, looking, as they have so often in recent years, like the best of the rest.
"It shows the character of the players, to keep going and get that third goal," said their relieved manager, Paul Simpson.
It also showed the virtue of patience, because it took his team almost an hour even to begin whittling away at Stoke's early lead.
Even as their frustration mounted, they stuck to trying to play good football in difficult conditions, rather than turning their quest into a head-long cavalry charge.
They began their recovery with a fine, low shot from Paul McKenna, continued it with a header from David Nugent and completed it through the unlikely boot of Kelvin Wilson.
The young centre-back had been partly responsible for the goal that had put Stoke two up after only seven minutes and had not scored since one for Notts County against Shrewsbury last season. "It was a bit special to come back from 2-0," Wilson said. "We've done it before at Ipswich and we came out for the second half today fighting. Even before Paul got the first I thought there was a chance we were going to get back into it. It felt like it was coming."
The day ended in bitter disappointment for Stoke, but they showed enough to suggest that, although they have dropped to ninth in the Championship as a result, they have enough about them to be challenging for a play-off place.
In the first half, their strike pairing of Mamady Sidibe and Vincent Pericard caused problems every time the ball came near them. Even after they lost their attacking momentum after the break, their defence was difficult to break down and they maintain their knack of bringing in experienced and influential loan signings.
Andy Griffin is back from Portsmouth, while Dominic Matteo made an encouraging debut on loan from Blackburn. It was not a winning debut, because Preston's determination wore City down. They would have done the same to most teams in the division.
Goals: Lawrence 2 (0-1); Sidibe 7 (0-2); McKenna 65 (1-2); Nugent 74 (2-2); Wilson 89 (3-2).
Preston North End (4-4-2): Nash; Alexander, Wilson, Chilvers, Hill; Sedgwick (Whaley, 59), Pugh, McKenna, Neal; Ormerod (Ricketts, 85), Nugent. Substitutes not used: Lonergan (gk), Dichio, St Ledger.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Wilkinson (Brammer, 77), Duberry, Higginbottom, Griffin; Hoefkens, Russell, Matteo, Lawrence; Pericard (Rooney, 83), Sidibe. Substitutes not used: Eustace, Sweeney, Dickinson.
Referee: R Beeby (Northamptonshire).
Booked: Stoke City Wilkinson, Simonsen, Hoefkens.
Man of the match: McKenna.
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