Match report: PNE 1 Fulham 2
Preston North End were unable to conjure up another comeback as they went down to defeat against Fulham at Deepdale.
After securing two wins and a draw in their last three games from losing positions, the Lilywhites could not manage it this time despite their best efforts.
It looked like they might do at one stage, substitute Marnick Vermijl netting a superb goal in the 64th minute to bring them level after Fulham had led through Ross McCormack's fifth-minute opener.
But the Cottagers regained the lead 10 minutes later, Moussa Dembele tapping-in from close range after a McCormack free-kick had been pushed against the post by Anders Lindegaard.
North End fought and scrapped for a second equaliser but not even nine minutes of stoppage-time could bring a goal - much of that additional time put on for some blatant time-wasting by the visitors.
It was their first defeat since January 23 when another London club, Brentford, inflicted a 3-1 loss.
Simon Grayson had stuck with the same starting XI and substitutes which had been involved in last Saturday's 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers.
Named on the Fulham bench was former North End goalkeeper Andrew Lonergan, making his first return to Preston since being sold to Leeds in July 2011.
North End started brightly enough and had the game's first chance in the third minute.
Paul Gallagher delivered a free-kick from the left channel into the box, Joe Garner meeting it with a flicked header which keeper Marcus Bettinelli stretched to tip over the bar.
They were done on the counter-attack for Fulham's opener, Tim Ream's ball from the edge of his own box aimed up towards McCormack who had Tom Clarke and Bailey Wright for company.
Clarke seemed to misjudge the flight of the ball, allowing McCormack to go one-on-one with Wright.
He got the better of him to run clear into the box, taking the ball round Lindegaard before rolling a low finish into an unguarded net.
Calum Woods was not far away from finding a quick equaliser, cutting inside from the right-wing and driving a left-foot shot just over the bar.
Jordan Hugill hooked a shot towards goal after Bettinelli had failed to gather a cross but Michael Madl cleared inside the six-yard box.
Preston lost Clarke's services in the 11th minute, the skipper having clashed heads with team-mate Woods.
He was able to walk off the pitch after being treated by the physio and club doctor but looked groggy as he made his way to the tunnel.
Paul Huntington replaced him from the bench, slotting into the middle of the back three.
Not too long after, Woods ended up in the dressing room with Clarke after injuring his left ankle - Vermijl coming on to play in the right-back slot.
Tom Cairney sent a first-time shot from the edge of the box in a rare Fulham attack, the visitors content to sit back after taking the lead.
Hugill went down in the box just before the half-hour mark but got a corner rather than a penalty for his troubles.
After a scrappy spell of play from both sides, North End presented more of a threat in the build-up to the interval which included five added minutes for Clarke's injury.
Alan Browne's cross from the left found Garner at the back post, the striker bringing it down before seeing his shot smothered by Bettinelli.
Two minutes into stoppage-time, Garner met Gallagher's corner but put his header inches too high and on to the top of the net.
Fulham came close to adding to their lead in the 47th minute, Wright's pass intended for Browne intercepted by Scott Parker.
He drove forward before feeding a pass out to McCormack who got into the box and forced Lindegaard into a save at his near post.
North End had a couple of sights of goal in quick success, Vermijl's shot from the edge of the area deflected behind for a corner.
A Gallagher cross then found Garner at the far post but his header looped up into the keeper's gloves.
A strong spell of Preston pressure paid off in the 64th minute as they equalised in some style.
Vermijl drove the right side of the box, going past two defenders, before finishing superbly with a low shot across the keeper from a tight angle.
Hugill's race was run shortly after the goal, with Jermaine Beckford replacing him in PNE's third and final change.
Fulham went back in front within 10 minutes of North End's leveller, Greg Cunningham's foul on Ryan Fredericks conceding a free-kick five yards outside the box.
McCormack curled the free-kick up and over the wall, Lindegaard getting across to push it against the post.
With North End's defence slow to react, Dembele was first to the rebound and bundled it over the line.
The search for a second equaliser saw Beckford force a diving save from Bettinelli with a low shot.
Gallagher curled a shot well over the bar from outside the box as the hosts continued to press.
When seven minutes of additional time was signalled by the fourth official, a huge cheer went up.
Four minutes into that period, Lindegaard went up into the Fulham box when North End won a corner.
As the clock ticked further on, Beckford's flick from Garner's downward header just cleared the bar.
PNE: Lindegaard, Clarke (Huntington 11), Wright, Cunningham, Woods (Vermijl 22), Pearson, Gallagher, Browne, Reach, Garner, Hugill (Beckford 67). Subs (not used): Johnson, Doyle, Robinson, Kirkland.
Booked: Hugill 44, Beckford 90, Huntington 90
Fulham: Bettinelli, Federicks, Madl (Burn 90), Amorebieta, Ream (Stearman 46), Cairney (O'Hara 58), Parker, Ince, Tunnicliffe, Dembele, McCormack. Subs (not used): Garbutt, Smith, Baird, Lonergan.
Booked: Cairney 53, Dembele 60, Tunnicliffe 86
Referee: Scott Duncan (Northumberland)
Attendance:10,358 (379 away)