Four goals, four successive home wins, five games without defeat... West Bromwich Albion should have promotion written all over them.
Yet Preston North End still exposed some surprising shortcomings in a match settled only by two goals in the final 15 minutes by the substitute Nathan Ellington.
The first was a real howler against the visiting keeper Carlo Nash, whose manager Paul Simpson must wonder what might have happened had Danny Dichio's red card not left him a player light for 49 minutes.
Albion, two up in 25 minutes, yielded an equaliser despite their numerical advantage and were ragged following some inspired counter-attacking in the first half.
Jason Koumas showed a wonderful first touch to bring Darren Carter's floated ball down to perfection, the instant control taking him past Graham Alexander before Simon Whaley was also wrong-footed prior to a delicious curling shot beyond Nash.
That fifth-minute breakthrough was followed by a devastating break for the second. Curtis Davies overlapped Carter on the left and his cross was slammed home first time by Diomansy Kamara's left foot.
Even then, Preston had played a full part in a rousing contest, with David Nugent twice and Danny Pugh sounding warnings that increased in volume when Russell Hoult had to superbly push away Paul McKenna's 20-yarder.
Although Kamara had fired just wide at the other end, it was no shock when Preston found a fresh foothold in the 35th minute.
The goal was a gift from Paul Robinson or the referee Scott Mathieson, depending on your allegiances, the full-back being adjudged to have handled Matt Hill's long centre as he tried to chest down. Alexander has a penalty record approaching Matt Le Tissier standards and scored with his usual conviction.
The towering Dichio, given a generous pre-match welcome by fans at one of his former clubs, just had time to head wide from three yards from McKenna's corner before his holiday programme ended in a flash.
Albeit without great force or malice, he floored Paul McShane by flailing the sort of elbow that brings only one result these days - and left Nugent a lonely figure.
That Preston still fashioned an equaliser midway through the second half - the striker turning in Chris Sedgwick's hard, low centre - says much for their resourcefulness. But they could not have allowed for Nash letting a 25-yard free-kick from the newly introduced Ellington to squirm under his body to restore Albion's lead.
Second-placed Preston barely managed another threat before Ellington headed home Robinson's cross, with Nash this time making an unsuccessful advance from his line.
West Bromwich (4-4-2): Hoult; Albrechtsen, Davies, McShane, Robinson; Kamara, Greening, Carter (Ellington, 71), Koumas; Phillips (Chaplow, 86), Hartson (Quashie, 60). Substitutes not used: Zuberbühler (gk), Perry,
Preston (4-4-2): Nash; Alexander, St Ledger, Chilvers, Hill; Whaley (Miller, 38), Sedgwick, McKenna (Wilson, 67), Pugh (Ormerod, 82); Nugent, Dichio. Substitutes not used: Lonergan (gk), Neal.
Referee: S Mathieson (Cheshire).Reuse content