Preston North End pass Rotherham United test with ease and march on to Birmingham City

Duane Holmes and Emil Riis were on the score sheet for PNE
Duane Holmes celebratesDuane Holmes celebrates
Duane Holmes celebrates

On paper, Preston North End returned to action after the international break with the kindest Championship fixture possible. Yet, any follower of the Lilywhites will have recognised that these afternoons have not always been that straightforward for PNE teams over the years. If Ryan Lowe's side were to keep their top six aspirations alive, though, this was a test they really ought to be passing - against an outfit with three wins out of 38 to their name.

The PNE faithful knew key cogs, Ben Whiteman and Brad Potts, would be unavailable for the match through injury. But, news of Liam Millar's unavailability, once the teams came out at two o'clock, won't have done pre-match nerves any good. Emil Riis and Alan Browne were back in the fold, though - while a first start in two plus months was handed to Duane Holmes. And in the absence of Millar, Preston's boss called on Robbie Brady to go again - after two starts for Ireland. North End's first challenge of the afternoon was to battle through torrential weather conditions, as hail battered down on to the pitch and made a racket of a sound, on the roofs of Deepdale. The first 20 minutes were a tad tentative, with some 'nearly' moments for the hosts; Rotherham players always seemed to get a foot in, just in the nick of time.

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But, on 22 minutes, Lowe's team found a way through as two senior heads combined. And from there, PNE never really looked back. Robbie Brady will have heard the cries to shoot, as the ball dropped to him from Mads Frokjaer's blocked shot. There will be suggestions that is what the Irishman did, but a little lift up of the head - before drilling it across the box - would imply Brady meant every bit of his assist for Holmes, who was in the right place at the right time to apply the simple finish. The first goal, against a side heading to League One, felt vital and there was suddenly a real vulnerability about the Millers.

North End could smell blood and the game was being played firmly in the opponents' half. Ali McCann timed his tackle perfectly on half way and set Frokjaer away, to play the ball through to Riis. PNE's number 19 is destructive and devastating when at his best and that is what the Dane has often been, since returning from his horror injury. After killing the ball with his first touch, a second goal for the Lilywhites just looked inevitable. Bang; bottom corner. Five minutes later, Riis drilled in number three, eventually, from a couple of yards out. Preston headed in at half time completely in control and with the chance to inflict further, brutal damage on the visitors.

Based on the second half, referee Steve Martin could've probably blown his full time whistle at the interval. Rotherham resembled a team who knew they were done, not only in the game but season too. North End didn't need to score again, but will have surely wanted to put a show on in front of the home support. But with another game in three days, and the Millers making zero attempt to hunt the ball down, PNE played the half in front of them perhaps. Lowe got minutes into the legs of Kian Best and Jack Whatmough, then Layton Stewart and Noah Mawene.

Holmes almost made it four with a dipping effort, inches wide of the post. And Keane couldn't quite guide his header on target from the cross of Riis - who was too hot for Rotherham to handle again. At the other end, Freddie Woodman was largely untroubled - though Hakeem Odoffin could've done better with his acrobatic effort, inside the six yard box. At one point, PNE were two points off sixth with a game in hand. But, 260 miles down the road, Norwich City completed the turnaround and maintained their five point lead. Preston, ultimately though, can be pleased with the professional manner in which they got the job done. Perhaps it's still to early to be checking the table, mid-match, anyway. And so, on to St Andrew's it is, with another big three up for grabs.

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Attendance: 15,470 PNE starting XI: Woodman; Storey (Whatmough 61'), Lindsay, Hughes, Holmes (Seary 85'), McCann (Mawene 77'), Browne (c), Brady (Best 61'), Frokjaer, Keane (Stewart 77'), Riis. PNE unused subs: Cornell, Cunningham, Woodburn, Osmajic.

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