By Tom George
Preston ensured that they would be in the draw for the FA Cup Fourth Round with an impressive victory over Championship Norwich City at Deepdale, thanks to a second half brace from Paul Gallagher.
The on-loan forward put North End ahead with twenty minutes to go, after smashing home Jack King’s knock down from a Bailey Wright free kick. The victory was then secured on 85 minutes when Kyel Reid squared for the unmarked Gallagher, who slotted the ball beyond the helpless John Ruddy from inside the area.
Preston boss Simon Grayson made five changes to the side that drew at Crewe Alexandra last week, with Bailey Wright, David Buchanan, Kyel Reid, Calum Woods, and Jack King all coming in to freshen things up. New signing Sylvan Ebanks-Blake was named amongst the substitutes, alongside the experienced duo of Kevin Davies and Jermaine Beckford.
The match began slowly, and the early minutes were characterised by both teams seeming happy to keep possession in their own halves.
Both sets of supporters were in fine voice as they urged their sides forward, and Preston came close to breaking the deadlock on 25 minutes when Gallagher floated a cross into the centre, Andy Little brought down the ball and set up Kyel Reid whose low drive was deflected wide via Michael Turner.
However, the visitors could have gone ahead when Jonny Howson threaded through Gary Hooper, who looked to be through on goal, but his first touch let him down and the ball ran on through to Preston goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann.
Seven minutes before the break Preston had a penalty appeal for hand ball turned down when Gallagher’s cross appeared to strike Turner’s hand, but referee Stuart Attwell waved away the protests, much to the dissatisfaction of the home support.
Each side would go close again before the interval. King glanced a Gallagher free-kick wide of goal from ten yards out for North End, while Howson fired well over for the visitors after Redmond had found him lurking at the far post with a teasing chip, following some good work down the right wing.
Preston began the second half in the ascendency, with Reid’s pace and directness causing all sorts of problems for the Norwich defence. However, it was Bradley Johnson who looked destined to give his side the lead, as he reigned through one-on-one with Stuckmann before a fantastic last-ditch challenge from Bailey Wright dispossessed the ex-Leeds man at the crucial moment.
This may have provided a wake-up call for North End, as two minutes later David Buchanan broke down the left and whipped in a dangerous cross, but Andy Little’s powerful header failed to hit the target.
However, Preston got the goal they so richly deserved with twenty minutes to go when Gallagher fired home the opener into the centre of the goal from close range.
The Glaswegian then doubled the lead with five minutes to go with his second. Superb work from Jermaine Beckford in closing down Turner, led the ball into the path of the magnificent Reid who played in Gallagher for an easy finish.
With five minutes left to play, Reid left the fold to a standing ovation and made way for Ebanks-Blake who was making his debut for the club.
The home faithful continued to encourage their side to push for another and just before the final whistle, Gallagher ambitiously fired a late 30-yard strike wide in search of a hat-trick.
Speaking after the game Grayson said: “Our objective today was to try and put on a good performance against a strong Norwich team and a strong squad and obviously to try and get through to the next round and we have managed to achieve that.”
Grayson’s attention will now turn to Wednesday night’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Final First Leg tie with Walsall at Deepdale as Preston attempt to reach the new Wembley Stadium for the first time.
PNE Team: Stuckmann, Buchanan, Woods, Wright (c), Huntingdon, King, Brownhill (Humphrey, 63), Browne, Reid (Ebanks-Blake, 86), Gallagher, Little (Beckford, 63). Subs not used: Jones, Clarke, Kilkenny, Davies.
Norwich City Team: Ruddy, Whittaker, Miquel (Loza, 84), Turner, Bennett, Howson, Johnson, Hoolahan (J Murphy, 71), Redmond, O’Neil, Hooper (Lafferty, 69). Subs not used: Rudd, Martin, Garrido, McGrandles.
Attendance: 9,807 (1,099 away fans)
Referee: Stuart Attwell