Dave Seddon's big match verdict: Whodunnit? Who cares!
Preston's winner against Queens Park Rangers had a '˜whodunnit' element about it but the identity of the scorer mattered little compared to how significant the goal could be in the bigger picture.
Was it Alan Browne, was it Callum Robinson, was it even an own goal?
The 1,257 travelling North End supporters cared not as they danced and sang their way down South Africa Road on Saturday teatime.
All that really mattered was three points were in the bag and the Lilywhites were back in the play-off hunt.
Judging by the fact the Browne ‘Baluga’ song got a good airing, many PNE fans were leaning the Irishman’s way for being credited for the 74th-minute winner.
It was his header from an inch-perfect Paul Gallagher delivery which flew goalwards before Robinson got the final touch.
Robinson’s intervention seemed to come after the ball had crossed the line, indeed that is what the representative of Hawk Eye confirmed later.
Incidentally, Hawk Eye had come into play for North End’s first goal when QPR keeper Matt Ingram attempted to scoop a Robinson shot out from behind the line.
Goalline technology had not been needed in a Preston game this season up until that the moment.
Browne put his name on the winner when interviewed post-match and North End will back him up on that when putting in their official report on the game.
For the time being, it will be Robinson who is credited with both goals – having been given the second goal at the time by the Press Association.
However, Browne should get it, the ideal early start to his 23rd birthday celebrations on Sunday.
In the space of seven days, Preston have gone from doom to optimism in terms of their chances of making the top six.
Defeat at Reading looked to have all-but closed the door on the play-offs.
Back-to-back victories and favourable results elsewhere on Saturday have left the door ajar with three games to go.
They are three points behind sixth place and Derby above them in seventh have a game in hand – against Cardiff City.
Game on, North End might not be favourites but there is a chance.
To still be in the mix after 43 matches is credit to the players and the management of Alex Neil.
It would have been easy to let the campaign drift after the run of three defeats, in the manner it did 12 months ago when the end of any lingering play-off hopes led to an awful late run of results.
But Neil has got his side energised and focused on a strong finish which could yet bring its rewards.
Victory in West London was somewhat ground out, this not the greatest game of football we have witnessed this season.
Both sides were as untidy as each other in the first half, it is hard to remember a phase of play when a series of passes were put together.
It is fair to say that Neil was none too complimentary of Preston’s show in the first 45 minutes.
The saving grace was their equaliser on the stroke of half-time, allowing the boss to slightly tone down his words during the interval.
North End were better in the second half, better when Gallagher and Josh Harrop joined the fray just past the hour.
They knocked on the door a couple of times before the winner arrived, you could see it coming as more intensity was introduced to their play going forward.
Once they got their noses in front, Neil’s men dug in to hold out – one goal either way was going to settle it and they chose to hold what they had.
Neil made three changes to the side which had beaten Leeds, one enforced and two voluntary.
Sean Maguire stayed at home with a tight hamstring, Gallagher and Ben Davies moving to the bench.
Robinson, Darnell Fisher and Daniel Johnson came into the side, Robinson handed the task of leading the attack.
It was the first time since early in the campaign that Davies had been on the bench, Neil opting for the experience of skipper Tom Clarke next to Paul Huntington.
Against Leeds, Clarke had played at right-back but it was a return to the middle here.
His leadership more than anything could be key over the next three weeks.
DJ was handed the No.10 role behind Robinson, Browne operating further back with Ben Pearson.
A failing of North End of late has been to concede the first goal, doing so here for a fifth game on the bounce.
As against Reading and Leeds, they shipped it inside the opening 13 minutes, and as in the previous two it came from a set-piece.
Ryan Manning, a former next-door neighbour of Greg Cunningham back home in Galway, swung in a free-kick which Browne headed clear.
It came back to Manning who lifted the ball over to the far post where Matt SMITH ran it to prod it home.
North End were slow out after clearing the initial ball and do need to stop giving the opposition a foothold.
A couple of set-plays gave them a sight of goal in their pursuit of parity – Clarke and Huntington seeing headers blocked.
They pulled level in the 45th minute, just as the board was going up to signal three minutes of additional time.
Billy Bodin carried the ball into the box and played it down the outside to find the overlapping Fisher.
The right-back’s driven low cross found ROBINSON in the six-yard box, the ball hitting his foot and rolling in.
Preston stepped on the gas after the interval, Gallagher and Harrop arriving in place of DJ and Bodin helping to up the pace.
A foul on Harrop by Ebere Eze led to a free-kick down the left channel.
Gallagher delivered it to the far post where BROWNE rose to head it back across goal and into the net.
Robinson made sure it was over the line with a nod of the head but let us go with it being Browne’s goal – his eighth of a season in which he has taken great strides.
It is Norwich next, Neil’s old club, which might be tasty.