Match report: Cardiff City 0 PNE 1

Tom Clarke's 90th minute goal gave Preston North End a dramatic but deserved victory over Cardiff City.

Saturday, 30th December 2017, 12:42 am
Updated Saturday, 30th December 2017, 1:55 am
Tom Clarke heads in Preston's winner at Cardiff.

The PNE skipper nodded in from close range after a Paul Huntington header from Josh Harrop's corner had been parried by keeper Neil Etheridge.

North End put in a battling display in South Wales, more than holding their own against Neil Warnock's Bluebirds who went into the game third in the table.

They earned the right to play, winning their physical battles and imposing themselves on the game.

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Clarke celebrates scoring the winner for PNE in South Wales.

It looked like a draw would have to suffice until Clarke popped up with his second goal in three weeks to deliver the three points and stretch the unbeaten run to nine matches.

This was also PNE's first win at the Cardiff City Stadium and the first on Bluebirds territory since November 2004 - that also a Friday night affair in front of the Sky cameras.

The big team news of the evening was Greg Cunningham's return at left-back after more than four months on the sidelines with a serious hamstring injury which required surgery.

His inclusion was one of three changes to the side which had started Boxing Day's goalless draw at Barnsley, with Clarke and Alan Browne returning.

PNE striker Jordan Hugill grapples with Cardiff defender Bruno Manga

The game took a while to spring into any semblance of life, the opening 20 minutes very much a case of the teams sizing one another up.

Ben Pearson changed that by bursting up field out of midfield, his run carrying him to within a few yards of the Cardiff box where his progress was halted by a Lee Peltier foul, that earning the Bluebirds left-back a yellow card.

Paul Gallagher took the resulting free-kick and saw it hit the wall, Daryl Horgan's follow-up effort charged down by a defender with the ball eventually kicked clear.

Browne pulled a low shot from 25 yards wide of the target, the midfielder booked soon after that for tugging Lee Tomlin's shirt as he moved towards the North End box.

Alan Browne competes for the ball at Cardiff

A handful of times in the first half, the visitors worked themselves into promising positions in and around the edge of the box but seemed reluctant to shoot and instead choose another pass.

But in that opening period, they certainly saw more of the ball and got a foothold in the contest.

Gallagher saw a 40th minute free-kick blocked by the wall, Clarke the first to the rebound and claiming that his shot was blocked by a Cardiff arm.

The home side had a bit flourish in the couple of minutes before half-time, Cunningham coming across well to block a shot from Tomlin and take it behind for a corner, Huntington having been caught out of position uncharacteristically as Cardiff broke on the counter.

Clarke celebrates scoring the winner for PNE in South Wales.

Joe Ralls then saw a shot clip a Preston defender and bounce past the post for a corner.

Six minutes into the second half Chris Maxwell was called into action for the first time, the North End goalkeeper diving to his right to hold a header from Tomlin who had connected with Jamie Paterson's right-wing cross.

Horgan made space for himself in a central position with a smart turn in the 58th minute but he lifted a shot over the bar from 25 yards with his weaker left foot.

There was a double substitution for North End with 68 minutes played, Harrop and Callum Robinson replacing Gallagher and Horgan.

Robinson set up a half-chance for Hugill, his cross from the left finding the striker who got across his man but could only head wide.

PNE almost made the breakthrough in the 76th minute as Barkhuizen got away down the right channel and cut into the box.

PNE striker Jordan Hugill grapples with Cardiff defender Bruno Manga

His low ball into the goalmouth was palmed out by keeper Neil Etheridge and looked to be rolling into Hugill's path before Manga got in a fine last-ditch block to clear for a corner.

At the other, Maxwell got across his line well to hold a header from Manga after a free-kick had picked him out.

Cunningham lasted 83 minutes of his comeback game, Calum Woods coming off the bench for left-back duties in the closing stages.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 90th minute as North End won a corner on the left which Harrop delivered into a packed goalmouth.

Huntington climbed to meet it and powered a header towards goal, Etheridge parried and Clarke was on the spot to head the rebound into the net from close range.

North End saw out six minutes of added-on time, Maxwell making a good save in the 95th minute to push behind a shot from substitute Rhys Healey.

Cardiff: Etheridge, Patterson, Manga, Bamba, Peltier, Damour, Ralls, Feeney (Hoilett 63), Tomlin (Healey 75), Mendez-Laing, Zohore (Bogle 83). Subs (not used): Pilkington, Halford, Connolly, Murphy.

PNE: Maxwell, Clarke, Huntington, Davies, Cunningham (Woods 83), Pearson, Gallagher (Harrop 68), Browne, Barkhuizen, Horgan (Robinson 68), Hugill. Subs (not used): O'Connor, Welsh, Mavididi, Rudd.

Referee: James Linnington (Isle of Wight)

Attendance: 17,751

Alan Browne competes for the ball at Cardiff