First PNE goal was just the ticket for Greg

Greg Cunningham nets with a diving header in Preston's win over Bristol City in midweek
Greg Cunningham nets with a diving header in Preston's win over Bristol City in midweek
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Goals do not come often for Greg Cunningham, so for him to open his Preston account in midweek against the club who let him go on a free transfer, was a sweet moment.

The Irishman launched himself full length to send a diving header into the net to give PNE a 2-1 win over Bristol City.

It was only the fifth goal of his professional career and his first for 11 months since scoring for the Robins last February.

While the trend these days is not to celebrate if scoring against former employers – somewhat boring in many people’s eyes – Cunningham’s reaction to finding the net was refreshing.

He raced off to share the moment with team-mates but without rubbing the noses of Bristol City supporters in it.

Indeed, the 24-year-old got the best reception of the three PNE players returning to Ashton Gate, Neil Kilkenny and Callum Robinson not seemingly as popular.

Cunningham told the Evening Post: “I couldn’t have written the script better when it came to my first Preston goal.

“To get it against my old club made it especially sweet.

“It was a hard-fought game, not exactly a glamour match, and we showed a lot of grit and character.

“Although it was disappointing to concede straight after taking the lead, we had plenty about us to go and get the winner.

“You don’t get pretty games all the time in this division, you build up points by digging deep a lot of the time.

“This was our third win in the league on the bounce and we are now up to 13th.

“There is more work to do though, we need to keep on picking up points otherwise you can quickly find yourselves dangling near the relegation zone if you hit a bad run.”

Cunningham would like to add more goals to his game, although his defensive duties come first.

North End boss Simon Grayson revealed that the defender had been taking some light-hearted stick from team-mates over his lack of goals.

“I don’t score enough goals, I should have a few more to my name,” said Cunningham.

“My goal on Tuesday night was from a set-piece we had been working on.

“When we got the corner, I told Paul Gallagher to get the ball over to me and told Tom Clarke and Paul Huntington to try and drag their defenders to the front post.

“I made my run late into the box and when Gally delivers the ball with that right foot of his, 99 times out of 100, he finds you.

“When the ball came over I just threw myself at it and what a sight it was to see it go in.”

Cunningham was a Bristol City player for three years, joining them in a £650,000 move from Manchester City.

North End picked him up on a free transfer, the Eastlands side allowing his exit a year before his contract was due to finish.

Last season, he was far from being a regular as the Robins romped to the League One title. Yet this term in the higher division, Cunningham has started all but two of Preston’s league games.

And going into the weekend, PNE are 13 points better off than the side they beat on Tuesday.

Said Cunningham: “I still get on really well with a lot of the Bristol City boys and have kept in touch with them.

“The reason I left was that I wasn’t playing as often as I wanted and I needed to leave for the good of my career.

“I don’t have any hard feelings, I had a chat with their boys before and after the game.

“When it came to the match, we kept things professional and all my focus was on getting the win for Preston.”

One person who Cunningham was particularly keen to catch up with at Ashton Gate, was young City fan Oskar Pycroft.

The seven-year-old was mascot for the Robins when they lost to PNE 1-0 in November 2014.

Oskar suffers from cerebral palsy and led the teams out that day in a wheelchair.

But after fans raised £57,000, he underwent life-changing surgery which has allowed him to walk. On Tuesday night, with the help of a frame, Oskar walked from the tunnel to the centre circle before the game, getting a huge round of applause.

“He’s a lovely little lad, very brave and the fund-raising for him has been brilliant,” said Cunningham.

“This was the first time I had been back to Ashton Gate since I left, so it was nice to see him.

“The fact that he was able to walk on to the pitch was a big moment, very special.”

North End’s squad did not return to Lancashire after beating Bristol City, instead staying down south ahead of Saturday’s visit to Ipswich Town. The break has given the players a chance to combine training with some team bonding.

Cunningham said: “We did something similar between playing Charlton and Brighton in October and it worked well.

“It has cut down on the travelling and the lads have enjoyed being together. We have a big game at Ipswich next – they are up there in the play-offs.

“At the start of the season, we played really well against them at Deepdale, only to get undone by two brilliant finishes.

“We have done well against the teams up there and hopefully we can get something this time.”