Preston North End 2 C Palace 0

Preston North End's perfect start to the new season continued with a third consecutive win to leave them joint top of the table.

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Only alphabetical order prevented Alan Irvine's side seeing their name in pole position - Coventry, with an identical record, taking the No 1 spot after their 2-1 win at Barnsley.

Revitalised North End sent highly-rated Palace back to London empty-handed, but they were made to work hard for the points.

A goal from Barry Nicholson just before the hour mark on his home league debut broke the deadlock in a tight game.

And Richard Chaplow popped up to settle the match in stoppage time and

complete the club's best start since 1999.

The win capped a marvellous day for North End which had begun with the opening of the new Invincibles Pavilion by Sir Tom Finney at lunch time.

Irvine's men found Palace difficult to break down after the Eagles lined up with a five-man midfield and only striker Jamie Scowcroft up front on his own.

They could have forced Palace to abandon their negative approach as early as the 12th minute, but Sean St Ledger's shot was blocked on the line by a sliding Danny Butterfield.

The opening goal finally arrived after 58 minutes when Neil Mellor's shot was blocked in the goalmouth, Nicholson's follow-up effort hit Shaun Derry on the line and came out before bouncing in off the back of keeper Julian Speroni.

Nicholson claimed it, even though the manager joked: "All the lads are telling him it was an own goal."

Neil Warnock was furious with referee Andy Woolmer for not handing his side a lifeline back into the game from the penalty spot after 63 minutes when keeper Andrew Lonergan appeared to give Scowcroft a hefty shove in the back as he tried to reach a header from Derry.

Palace abandoned their 4-5-1 system to push men forward in search of an

equaliser and they were caught a minute into stoppage time when Billy Jones slipped the ball through for Chaplow on the right of goal and he beat the keeper into the far corner.

In the first half, after St Ledger's piledriver had been blocked on the line, Chris Sedgwick and Paul McKenna both pulled shots narrowly wide and Simon Whaley was only inches too high with another effort.

It was hard going for Preston who were looking to make it three wins on the trot following their successes against Ipswich and Chesterfield.

The most likely way through was at set-pieces where Nicholson's accurate delivery caused the visitors plenty of problems. North End won six corners in the opening 45 minutes, but somehow Palace managed to keep the door shut.

The nearest the home side got to finding a way through came in the 12th minute when a flag kick was not cleared and when Mellor's header hit a defender the ball rolled free for St Ledger to hammer in a shot which a sliding Butterfield blocked on the goal-line.

Palace advanced upfield just before the break with Lee Hills forcing a save out of Lonergan with a shot from the left.

Nick Carle was only just over with a chip from the edge of the box and Hills again squandered a chance in stoppage time, allowing Lonergan to bundle his effort round the post.

Irvine brought back four players rested from Tuesday's Carling Cup tie

victory over Chesterfield for the first Championship home fixture of the new season.

Youl Mawene, left out in midweek as a precaution because of a sore knee, came back into the centre of defence alongside St Ledger.

Jones moved back to right-back after playing as an emergency central defender, meaning Michael Hart dropped back to the bench.

Chaplow was restored to the centre of midfield in place of Darren Carter.

Whaley returned up front to partner Mellor in place of Karl Hawley.

And Chris Sedgwick reclaimed the left-wing job with new signing Ross Wallace having to be content with a seat in the dug-out.

Palace boss Warnock also changed things following a midweek cup win over Hereford. He brought five players back including keeper Speroni, midfielder Tom Soares and striker Scowcroft.

Earlier Sir Tom had cut the tape on the new 9m Invincibles Pavilion and fans were treated to a programme of pre-match entertainment to mark the completion of the stadium's redevelopment scheme.

PNE: Lonergan, Jones, Mawene, St Ledger, Davidson, Nicholson, Chaplow,

McKenna, Sedgwick, Mellor, Whaley.

Substitutes: C Neal, Hart, Carter, Hawley, Wallace.

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Butterfield, McCarthy, Lawrence, Hill, Soares, Carle, Derry,

Oster, Hills, Scowcroft.

Substitutes: Ifill, Moses, Fonte, Eril, Andrews.

Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northants).

Log on to lep.co.uk for Alan Irvine's post-match reaction and see the Evening Post on Monday for Brian Ellis' verdict