Preston NE 2 Stoke City 0

Richard Chaplow scored twice to stun Championship leaders Stoke City and lift Preston North End out of the bottom three.

The midfielder struck his double in the space of nine first-half minutes to leave the division's top dogs shell-shocked and bring to an end their run of five straight wins.

His first was a close-range effort to finish off a free-kick move involving Paul McKenna, Chris Brown and Youl Mawene.

But his second was a real cracker, again from a free-kick, with skipper McKenna rolling the ball sideways and Chaplow hammering a low right-foot shot through a crowded box into the bottom left corner past a bewildered Steve Simonsen in the Potters' net.

Stoke, beaten only once in their previous 16 league games, had their chances to get themselves back into the game in a frantic end-to-end second half. But they came up against an uncompromising North End defence with keeper Andrew Lonergan once again in fine form behind them.

In the end Tony Pulis' side could have no complaints about a deserved Preston win which lifted them into fourth bottom spot two points above Sheffield Wednesday, although having played two games more.

Chaplow's goals came after a tentative start by both sides, with neither keeper threatened in the opening 20 minutes.

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Stormed back

But then Ryan Shawcross felled Karl Hawley with a clumsy challenge, McKenna lifted the free-kick into the Stoke box, Brown flicked it on, Mawene headed goalwards and Chaplow darted in to knock the ball over the line.

The breakthrough sparked the game into life and Brown had to keep out Sidibe as he tried to force a free-kick in at the far post.

Then Shawcross connected at the near post with a right-wing corner, but his snap shot was inches wide.

When Preston old boy Ricardo Fuller got through on the left of the box the whole of Deepdale held its breath, but the Jamaican pulled his shot wide of the diving Lonergan and the left-hand upright.

But just as the league leaders were beginning to look like they would drag themselves level, North End grabbed their second.

Offside trap

Big defender Shawcross gave away another free-kick for barging into Hawley. McKenna shaped to chip into the middle but then laid it square along the edge of the box for Chaplow to finish into the bottom corner.

Stoke stormed back upfield and Shawcross put a simple header wide of the target when it looked easier to score.

And then Fuller threw a temper tantrum after being denied what he felt should have been a certain penalty when Liam Chilvers robbed him of the ball right in front of goal.

Preston had a double scare at the start of the second half when Stoke broke through the middle and had the goal at their mercy.

But instead of finishing Rory Delap laid the ball off to Liam Lawrence, his shot was blocked on the line by Callum Davidson and, in the scramble that ensued, Mamady Sidibe tried to knock in the rebound, his shot hit Richard Cresswell on the side of the foot and North End managed to bundle the ball away to safety.

In the very next attack Sidibe beat the offside trap but sent his volley flashing over the crossbar.

And moments later Fuller was put through again on goal, but keeper Lonergan spread himself to make another of his trademark one-on-one saves.

Brought down

Chaplow went close to bagging a hat-trick on the hour mark when Hawley found him in front of goal with a right wing cross, but the midfielder mis-cued his shot and the chance was lost.

That was his last act as boss Alan Irvine replaced him with Darren Carter in the 61st minute, with the fans giving him a standing ovation for a man-of-the-match performance.

Davidson, his head swathed in bandages following a cut in the first half, was brought down crudely by Shawcross as he raced down the left wing, with the central defender finally getting a yellow card after a series of dubious challenges.

While that was going on, the referee's attention was drawn to the stricken body of defender Leon Cort at the other end of the field. Both physios rushed on to help and the player was eventually lifted carefully on to a stretcher and gently carried off the field with a suspected broken ankle.

Before the game, Irvine had called for more of the same as his heroes from the blitz of Vicarage Road faced another meaty challenge.

Kept faith

The Preston boss kept faith with the 11 who battled their way to a brave point against Watford, with instructions to go one better against the Potters.

Irvine expressed himself satisfied with the way his defence have been performing of late by keeping Sean St Ledger kicking his heels on the bench for the second match since he returned from suspension.

But, having sorted things at the back, the manager has now moved his attention to up front where the goals have been few and far between recently.

Hawley continued to partner Brown in attack, but the pair had Neil Mellor and Brett Ormerod putting pressure on from the sidelines.

Set-piece man Darren Carter had to be content with a seat in the dug-out after returning from a one-match ban, with Chaplow preferred in the centre of midfield following Saturday's performance at Watford.

Stoke, winners of their last five league games, made just one change to the side which beat Ipswich 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium at the weekend. North End old boy Danny Pugh came back to face his former team-mates in place of left-back Carl Dickinson.

With Paul Gallagher on the bench, the Potters' squad contained four ex-PNE players.

The rumoured return of a fifth - goalkeeper Carlo Nash - failed to materialise after a deal by Stoke to recruit him on loan hit a last-minute hitch at Wigan.

Preston North End: Lonergan, Jones, Mawene, Chilvers, Davidson, Sedgwick, McKenna, Chaplow, Whaley, Brown, Hawley.

Substitutes: C Neal, Carter, St Ledger, Ormerod, Mellor.

Stoke City: Simonsen, Griffin, Shawcross, Cort, Pugh, Lawrence, Delap, Whelan, Cresswell, Sidibe, Fuller.

Substitutes: Parkin, Diao, Gallagher, Wilkinson, Dickinson.

Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).