Preston North End see big opportunity go begging as Birmingham City edge Ryan Lowe's side

Jay Stansfield scored the only goal of the game at St Andrew's
Birmingham City's Jay Stansfield scoringBirmingham City's Jay Stansfield scoring
Birmingham City's Jay Stansfield scoring

The support act to UB40's live performance at St Andrew's was a Championship contest of great significance, to both Preston North End and Birmingham City, on Easter Monday. In the Midlands sunshine, Ryan Lowe's side were looking to make it two wins in four days and close the gap to the play-offs - while the Blues, under interim boss Gary Rowett, desperately needed points in the scrap for survival. The noise pre-match was fuelled by passion and powerful, with Birmingham's home ground a much improved sporting arena, post-renovation.

Midfield has been an area of real strength for PNE over the years, but the current crop was hit even further here. Captain Alan Browne had come down with illness, meaning he joined Ben Whiteman, Ryan Ledson and Brad Potts on the sidelines. That resulted in a full debut being handed to 19-year-old Noah Mawene, who partnered Ali McCann in the middle of the park. This was not a time for Preston to feel sorry for themselves though and they had to stand up to the Blues' quick start - which always felt likely, in the first home game under the returning Rowett.

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Duane Holmes was doing a job, at right wing-back, once again for Preston. His test was always going to be tougher than Friday's procession; Juninho Bacuna asked questions of him in the opening exchanges. It was Birmingham's number seven who drew the first big save out of Freddie Woodman, from close range, shortly before Jordan James fizzed just wide from distance. The stats won't have done PNE's couple of attacking moments justice in the first half, but the yellows had two glorious opportunities.

On both occasions, though, the final action lacked as Mads Frokjaer overhit his pass through to Duane Holmes - while Robbie Brady raced through on goal and cut the ball back for in-form Emil Riis, who just waited too long to strike. And North End had to breathe a sigh of relief just before the break, as Lee Buchanan clipped the post from distance. In any Championship game the first goal is vital and there was a feeling in the air, here, that it could be decisive. And with 68 minutes on the clock, Birmingham got all the fortune a team at the wrong end of the table would wish for - at this stage of the season.

Andrew Hughes was beaten to the ball just inside the Blues' half, before a Liam Lindsay slip allowed Jay Stansfield to race through on goal and roll home the opener. Not only did that strike give Birmingham the lead and deal PNE a blow, it sent the St Andrew's decibels soaring. And that made a difficult environment for a depleted North End to play in, as they chased a route back into the game. Millar had a couple of moments to potentially salvage a point, but Gary Rowett loves getting the job done against Preston and his players were in no mood to give up an enormous three points. For North End, frustration will be sky high - on a day when they could've gone two points off sixth placed Norwich City. There's still a lot of football to be played, but it's the hope that kills you.

Attendance: 24,511 (1,389 away) PNE starting XI: Woodman; Whatmough, Lindsay, Hughes, Holmes (Seary 90'), McCann, Mawene (Millar 63'), Brady (c), Frokjaer (Woodburn 63'), Keane (Stewart 74'), Riis (Osmajic 74'). PNE unused subs: Cornell, Cunningham, Storey, Best.

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