Match report: PNE 1 Birmingham City 1
Preston North End limped their way to a barely-deserved draw against Birmingham City at Deepdale.
The Lilywhites were well below par all game with the visitors very much the side on the front foot.
They did take the lead though, Ben Davies scoring his first goal for North End with a close-range finish at the far post in the 17th minute.
It was not much of a surprise when Birmingham equalised in the 63rd minute, a goal they were gift-wrapped by a mix-up between Chris Maxwell and Paul Huntington.
The ball broke to Sam Gallagher who was left with an empty net to roll the ball into.
North End badly missed Ben Pearson who missed the game through injury, there being little presence in midfield without him.
Alex Neil had made three changes to the side which had started last week's 1-1 draw at Millwall.
Daniel Johnson, Paul Huntington and Tom Barkhuizen returned to the starting XI, Alan Browne and Billy Bodin dropping down to the bench and Pearson out.
Birmingham started the game the stronger, a fifth minute shot from Gallagher on the turn hitting Maxwell on the leg and going behind for a corner.
Gallagher then put a header well wide from a Jeremie Boga cross when he would have been better leaving it for Cheikh Ndoye who was just behind him.
North End's first chance of the contest came after Paul Gallagher swung a corner to Barkhuizen outside the box.
The winger took a touch to get it under control and hit a shot which was charged down in the box.
It needed a good block from Tom Clarke to deny Ndoye in front of goal after Gallagher's cross had found its way to him.
The loose ball fell to Boga who lifted a shot high over the bar.
Preston's 17th minute opener came against the run of play somewhat.
A free-kick was played short and Gallagher lifted the ball into the box towards the far post.
Jordan Hugill and Marc Roberts challenged for it in the air, Roberts succeeding it heading the ball across the face of goal to the far post where Davies knocked it over the line from close range,
The remainder of the first half was a bit of a scrap from then on, Birmingham looking lively on the break and exploiting the gap left by Pearson's absence.
Goalscorer Davies was taken off at the interval, Josh Earl coming off the bench to play at left-back with Greg Cunningham moved across to right-back - Clarke partnering Huntington in the middle.
It was Earl's first appearance since undergoing knee surgery in November.
Another change was forced on North End before the hour, Hugill taken off and replaced by Browne.
That could have been the legacy of a head injury the striker had needed treatment for in the early moments of the second half.
Birmingham equalised in the 63rd minute and to be honest the goal had been coming.
It was handed to for them, Maxwell's short ball putting Huntington in trouble as Maghoma closed him down.
The keeper came racing out of his box in an attempt to help rectify the error, him and Huntington collided, the ball breaking to Gallagher who rolled the ball into an unguarded net.
Neil reacted by putting on Louis Moult for his debut in place of Robinson, that seeing PNE switch to 4-4-2.
Moult had his first sight of goal with a header from Gallagher's cross which looped across goal and wide of the far post.
In the 85th minute, Ndoye's header at a corner was kicked off the line by Barkhuizen by the post.
A late rally saw a couple of half chances for North End, Browne seeing a volley in the 89th minute saved at the foot of the post by keeper David Stockdale.
PNE: Maxwell, Clarke, Huntington, Davies (Earl 46), Cunningham, Gallagher, Johnson, Barkhuizen, Harrop, Robinson (Moult 69). Hugill (Browne 57). Subs (not used): Horgan, Welsh, Moult, Bodin, Rudd.
Birmingham: Stockdale, Colin, Roberts, Deam, Grounds, Kiefenbeld, Ndoye, Davis, Boga (Adams 86), Maghoma,Gallager. Subs (not used): Jutkiewicz, Bramall, Jenkinson, Jota, Morrison, Trueman.
Referee: Andy Davies (Hampshire)
Attendance: 13,529 (2,201 away)