Dave Seddon's big match verdict
Simon Makienok and Daniel Johnson are two players who have rediscovered their goal touch just at the right time for Preston North End.
Makienok scored for a second game running and DJ was on target for the third time in a week as PNE saw off Bristol City at Ashton Gate – a venue which is turning into a very happy hunting ground.
It was a third victory on the bounce at the home of the Robins which changes with every visit, three new stands having gone up during a rapid redevelopment.
Having given North End the lead against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday night, Makienok did likewise with a predatory close-range volley.
When Aaron Wilbraham equalised with 12 minutes left, wasteful finishing looked to have come back and bitten PNE on the backside, as it had done at Forest.
Step forward Johnson to net a late winner, somehow squeezing an effort past City’s young keeper Ivan Lucic at his near post.
That might well have not been his intention – it looked more like a cross had come off the outside of DJ’s foot and found a gap.
Do we care? In it went and 579 travelling Preston fans partied like it was 2016.
Their first and last league away games of this year were both against the Robins, wins in both book-ending a period of progression.
PNE head into Christmas in 11th place, with 32 points on the board.
The campaign reaches its halfway point on Boxing Day and for Simon Grayson’s men to be within five points of the top six, highlights a very strong recovery over the last three months following that shaky start.
Six defeats in the first eight Championship games have given way to only two losses in the last 14.
If such consistency can continue into 2017 then why can’t they be knocking on the door of the play-offs?
Preston have found different ways of winning this season, although the basis of all nine league victories has been to score the first goal in the game.
This last week, it has been all about bouncing back from conceding an equaliser to go on and score again.
They had to do it twice in the derby with Blackburn, pegged back at 1-0 and 2-1, then going on to win 3-2.
At Forest, PNE had to make do with a point after failing to hold on to the lead.
In the West Country on Saturday, it was all about them getting their heads back up after conceding and going again, such character hailed post-match by Grayson, who continues to inspire and coax his squad to better things.
This time last year, PNE had scored 17 league goals.
They have 30 to their name so far this term, the team playing with more nous and craft going forward.
Seven points taken from nine on offer in the past week was achieved without Paul Gallagher and John Welsh.
Aiden McGeady played only at Bristol City out of the three games.
Ben Pearson was missing for much of the second half at Forest.
Top scorer Jordan Hugill has had to make do with cameo roles, coming off the bench in the last two after running out of steam.
It has been a watching brief from the stands for Eoin Doyle and Jermaine Beckford for all three games.
That is a sizeable chunk of the squad either unavailable totally or partly, but others have stepped up to the plate.
Take Makienok – his start against, which was to give Hugill some company up front, was only his second in the league in a PNE shirt.
An impressive show that evening kept him in the team and two goals have followed to add to the hat-trick in the League Cup at Bournemouth and the late equaliser against Brighton. At the weekend, the Great Dane had the job of leading the Preston line on his own in a 4-1-4-1 system.
That he did effectively, his goal a well taken one from a fine Callum Robinson cross.
Returning to the side were McGeady and, surprisingly, Paul Huntington.
McGeady was always going to get back in once he had fully recovered from a groin strain.
To see Huntington’s name in the starting XI raised a few eyebrows, if only due to his relative inactivity this term.
This was only a third league start of the campaign, the last one being in October.
Grayson gave him the nod because Huntington’s height was needed to counter that of City’s Aden Flint.
No doubt, Wilbraham was also in Grayson’s thinking, the tall Robins striker starting on the bench but always likely to join the action at one stage.
As it happened, it was Alex Baptiste who Wilbraham got above to head the equaliser.
PNE went ahead in the 21st minute, having spent the opening spell of the game chasing shadows.
In what was probably only their second venture into the City box, Robinson curled in a left-footed cross from the right, MAKINEOK cushioning a volley into the net from six yards in front of the away fans.
That gave way to their best spell of the contest in which Robinson put a close-range shot against the bar and Alan Browne twice had chances.
The Robins’ equaliser saw WILBRAHAM meet Adam Matthews’ deep cross from the right and send a header over Chris Maxwell.
PNE arm-wrestled the lead back in the 85th minute, Makienok’s hooked pass playing in JOHNSON down the right.
He pushed on into the box and as the byline neared, DJ shaped to cross with his right foot but somehow caught it so the ball deceived Lucic at the near post and went in.
Chris Maxwell 8
Made two saves from Tomlin and Bryan during Bristol City’s bright start and was a big presence throughout the game.
Alex Baptiste 7
Steady performance at right-back, had the over-lapping Bryan to contend with early on. Got forward well.
Tom Clarke 8
Led the back line well, handling the threat of Abraham and later Wilbraham. Could have scored at the other end.
Paul Huntington 7
A very decent performance on his return to the starting XI. His addition height was key at times.
Greg Cunningham 7
The left-back enjoyed this one, with the win coming against his former club. Solid defensive display.
Ben Pearson 8
He continues to produce the goods on a consistent basis, keeping the game ticking over from a deep position.
Callum Robinson 7
Deployed on the right wing in a 4-1-4-1 system, Robinson produced the cross for PNE’s opening goal.
Alan Browne 8
Impressive performance from the young Irishman in midfield, got forward well like hehad done at Nottingham Forest.
Daniel Johnson 7
How he got the ball into the net for the winner, I don’t know, but it was DJ’s third goal in a week.
Aiden McGeady 7
We saw flashes of what McGeady is all about, with two or three speedy runs down the left wing.
Simon Makienok 8
The Great Dane netted his second goal in four days to put PNE in front. Played the lone striker role impressively.
Marnick Vermijl 6
The Belgian replaced McGeady after City’s equaliser, playing on the right wing with Robinson moving to the left.
Jordan Hugill 6
Thrown on a minute before the winner as PNE shifted to two up front in search of the three points.
Subs not used: Bailey Wright, Liam Grimshaw, Tommy Spurr, Ben Pringle, Anders Lindegaard.
BRISTOL CITY: Lucic, Matthews, Flint, Magnusson, Bryan, O’Neil, Pack (Wilbraham 65), Freeman (Paterson 76), Reid (Brownhill 76), Tomlin, Abraham. Subs (not used): O’Dowda, Engvall, Moore, O’Donnell.
REFEREE: Simon Hooper 6
ATTENDANCE: 18,619 (579 PNE)