Match report: PNE 0 Aston Villa 2

PNE defend a corner against Aston Villa
PNE defend a corner against Aston Villa

Preston North End slipped to a third successive defeat as their defensive injury crisis hit new depths.

The damage was done in the first half as goals from James Chester and Robert Snodgrass gave Aston Villa their victory.

Skipper-for-the night Ben Pearson

Skipper-for-the night Ben Pearson

But having started the game without six defenders, two more joined the casualty list by half-time as Josh Earl and Calum Woods limped out of the action.

North End played the second half with Alan Browne as an emergency centre-half alongside Andy Boyle who was making his first Championship appearance of the season.

Kevin O'Connor joined the fray at the start of the second half, this the left-back's league debut following a summer move from Cork City.

Although North End put in a steady performance after the interval, rarely did they look like making inroads into Villa's lead.

Both goals conceded were avoidable from the home side's point of view, Chester given too much room to head home a corner for the opener.

Then a stray back pass from skipper-for-the-night Ben Pearson was the starting point for Josh Onohah to play in Snodgrass for the second.

PNE's roll-call of injuries at the back before the game featured Paul Huntington, Ben Davies, Tommy Spurr, Marnick Vermijl, Tom Clarke and Greg Cunningham.

Woods and Earl picked up knocks during the first-half, meaning a half-time re-organisation.

Alex Neil had made two changes to the PNE side, Browne and Andy Boyle coming into the side in place of Callum Robinson and the suspended Huntington.

Boyle was in a back line which was very much patched-up, Woods partnering him in the centre of defence.

Villa made the stronger start, North End looking nervous, perhaps as a result of the many absences at the back.

Inside the first minute, Snodgrass hooked a volley over the bar after Conor Hourihane's free-kick fell to him in the box.

A fine save from Chris Maxwell kept out the visitors in the eighth minute, the keeper blocking at close quarters from Keinan Davis after Albert Adomah had powered down the left-wing and cut inside to pick him out.

It was no surprise when Villa made that early pressure count, taking a 12th minute lead.

Snodgrass delivered a corner from the right, Chester meeting it at the near post to angle a header goalwards, Pearson's attempt to block on the line in vein.

North End started to settle after that, having their best spell of the first half.

A corner routine almost fashioned an equaliser, Daniel Johnson swinging a flag-kick from the left to Pearson outside the box.

Pearson chipped it back into the box to the far post where Jordan Hugill headed it across goal forcing John Terry to head it over the bar at the expense of another corner.

PNE should have had a penalty when Sean Maguire was tripped in the box by Chester.

Maguire's pass then played Earl down the left hand side of the box, his driven cross met by Hugill who headed wide.

Just as they were finding a foothold in the game, North End conceded a second time in the 33rd minute.

It was gifted to Villa, Pearson pass back towards Woods falling well short and allowing Onomah to steal it.

Boyle dived in to try and tackle, Onomah squaring a pass to Snodgrass who fired a shot past Maxwell.

In first-half stoppage-time, Tom Barkhuizen drove a low ball across the six-yard box and inches wide of the far post.

North End were forced into a double change at half-time, injuries forcing Earl and Woods out of the action.

Paul Gallagher and Kevin O'Connor joined the action, O'Connor slotting in at left-back and Gallagher in midfield - Browne having to drop into an unfamiliar centre-back role.

Hourihane saw a shot charged down in the box early in the second half as North End's revamped defence came under pressure.

They began to find their feet though and with Gallagher a calm head in front of the back four, PNE started to offer a bit going forward.

Hugill volleyed over the bar from the edge of the box, then Gallagher tried his luck with a shot from 20 yards which went straight through to the keeper.

As Preston upped the pressure, they were almost undone when Browne stood on the ball and lost possession, Adomah firing a shot inches over the top.

In stoppage-time, substitute Daryl Horgan tried his luck with a low shot from distance which Sam Johnstone spilled before grabbing at the second attempt.

PNE: Maxwell, Fisher, Boyle, Woods (Gallagher 46), Earl (O'Connor 46), Pearson, Johnson, Barkhuizen (Horgan 77), Browne, Maguire, Hugill. Subs (not used): Harrop, Mavididi, Robinson, Hudson.

Villa: Johnstone, Elmohamady, Terry, Chester, Hutton, Adomah, Whelan, Snodgrass (De Laet 88), Hourihane, Onomah (Jedinak 66), Davis (Hogan 71). Subs (not used): Taylor, Samba, Bjarnason, Steer.

Referee: Peter Bankes (Merseyside)

Attendance: 14,212 (2,228 away)