By Joe Cooper – Sports Editor
A first-half header from Jack King saw Preston North End overcome managerless Bristol City in what finished as a bitter affair between the two League one sides.
North End, who were positioned in third before proceedings began, were watched by Opera singer Russell Watson. Fresh from his Rugby League World Cup final appearance just a few hours before.
The star sung in front of an attending 8003 supporters at Half-time in aid of the KatyHolmes trust, as much of the crowd delayed their half-time cup of tea to watch the Salfordian in action.
The home side started the brightest when just 10 minutes in, Paul Gallagher was through on goal but finished disappointingly as his effort was easily smothered by the diving Elliot Parish.
At the other end, The Robins nearly opened the scoring themselves when a loose ball fell to Greg Cunningham just inside the box. His first-time effort fired just wide of Declan Rudd’s goal to give the home side an early wake up call.
The Lilywhites responded well. A bursting run down the right hand side from Chris Humphrey troubled the visitors back line, before the Jamaican International laid the ball nicely to Jack King, but his shot fell straight into the gloves of the City keeper.
That wasn’t the last time King threatened City’s goalmouth. A deep free-kick from Paul Gallagher, was flicked on by Tom Clarke before fellow centre-back Jack King won the decisive second header to nod past the helpless Parish sending the home side one up just after the half hour mark.
North End nearly bagged a second just before the break when Paul Gallagher’s effort on the edge of the box took a wicked deflection. The rebound wrong-footing the keeper but fortunately for the trailing Bristol, the ball bobbled wide to keep the deficit at just one going into the half-time interval.
The second-half began as an easy encounter for at least the watching Journalists, who had pretty much nothing to report on for the opening quarter of the second-half, as the match became a much tighter affair. It wasn’t until an attempt from Bristol’s Sam Baldock, who cut inside from the left to fire across goal in the 55th minute that reporters opened the notepads for the first time in the second-half.
A whistle happy Referee didn’t help the flow of the game, regular halting both sides when play could have easily continued. A double substitution from Simon Grayson, firstly Joel Byrom coming on for Josh Brownhill, and Stuart Beavon making way for Ian Hume was enormously needed to spice the game up, and hopefully for the North End, a way of finishing the game off.
Despite their positive, attacking thinking, it nearly led to their own down fall. Bristol’s Scott Wagstaff nearly snatched an equalizer right under the noses of the PNE outfit just minutes from the final whistle. A thunderous 25 yard attempt smacking the crossbar of the beaten Rudd before the Preston defence scrambled the ball away.
With four minutes left on the clock it looked as though Preston were taking all three points unscathed. That was until both sides were reduced to 10 men.
A through ball was played into Gallagher, but the Scotsman was upheld by Karleigh Osborne. The PNE forward then seemed to have held on to the centre-half, much to the annoyance of the on-loan Millwall defender who retaliated, sparking what turned into a wrestling match between the pair.
Punches flew as both men were sent off, and their feud continued down the tunnel as both were sentenced to an early bath by referee Mr Clark.
The sending off spoilt what was otherwise a perfect day for Simon Graysons side who remain unbeaten in 9 in all competitions. The red card however gives Grayson something to worry about up front for their FA Cup tie against Wycombe, as both Garner and Gallagher look set to be suspended for the game, whilst Kevin Davies left the field with a knock to his head.
The distress is to be stressed for another day however as Preston finished the evening in 3rd place. Just six points behind the top two of Wolves and Leyton Orient