BURTON ALBION 0-1 PRESTON NORTH ENDPreston returned home up the M6 with all three points thanks to Tom Clarke's opportunist finish in first half stoppage time to leave Nigel Clough's Burton side rueing their chances on home ground.
After the away win at Rotherham United on Thursday hopes were high that Albion could carry on and add to their points tally with a result against Preston, a side who Albion had the benefit of two days extra rest over thanks to the Christmas fixture scheduling.
In a game where chances were at a premium, Albion had the lion's share of possession but could not turn it into clear cut chances, failing to seriously test visiting keeper Chris Maxwell, whilst once again showing a propensity to switch off at key moments, Clarke's goal coming with forty five minutes already up in the first half and with the Preston skipper the only player to react to a deeply hit Callum Robinson cross that looked like it was heading out for a goal kick until the right back scooped it in from an acute angle over Jon McLaughlin.
It was a poor goal to concede and with Preston's defence in miserly mood it was always going to be an uphill struggle to turn the game around after the break, Simon Grayson's side having arguably the better chances after the break to increase their advantage.
The only change to the side the ground out Albion's first away win as a Championship side saw Jamie Ward return to the starting line-up in place of John Brayford. The on-loan defender took a blow to the head in the victory at Rotherham and was rested as a precaution. Ward, nursing a knock against the Millers came into the attack with Lucas Akins returning to his right wing back role. New signing Marvin Sordell was introduced to the squad as a substitute having only put pen to paper on his Brewers contract just over 24 hours prior to the first game of 2017.
The game was just four minutes old when Ward tried an audacious attempt to beat Chris Maxwell in the Preston goal. A long ball out of defence bounced awkwardly for left back Greg Cunningham and sensing that the keeper was off his line slightly Ward tried to beat him from wide out and level with the edge of the centre circle. The end result was not what the striker was looking for with Maxwell able to field the ball comfortably inside his area.
Eoin Doyle tried to muscle his way through on ten minutes and got as far as the edge of the box before firing in a shot that cannonned back out off the leg of McFadzean holding his ground.
Burton threatened to open up the Preston defence, both Jackson Irvine and Chris O'Grady helping on a long clearance into the path of Lloyd Dyer out on the left but unfortunately his pull back into the danger area was behind those in yellow who had advanced into the box looking to take advantage.
There was a lengthy delay whilst Irvine received treatment for a blow to the head. After several minutes the Aussie left the field with a bandage around his head and able to continue.
The industry of O'Grady won the Brewers a corner on 25 minutes and from Matty Palmer's delivery Tom Naylor was inches away from heading home at the near post as the ball fizzed through the six yard box.
Albion's best move to date came on the half hour as Bailey Wright came to the rescue of the visitors with a vital interception to prevent Ward from finishing a delicious cross from O'Grady.
O'Grady became the first name to go into referee Ollie Langford's book when he clipped Callum Robinson as the visitors countered. It looked a harsh booking and nothing more that a coming together. The free kick was not particularly well executed by Preston and Ward was able to sprint towards the Preston goal one on one with the last defender until reinforcements got back to assist and, outnumbered, the chance was closed down.
Another spell of delightful one touch passing almost opened up the Preston defence on minutes. Ward, McCrory and Palmer all showed good touch to eventually work the bal to Irvine whose first time cross was just ahead of Akins at the far post.
Having the better of the two sides in the first half Albion found themselves victims of a real sucker punch goal if ever there was one as the half entered added time. Robinson has looked lively down the left for the visitors but had been marshalled well throughout the opening forty five but was allowed to pick out a cross on his right foot. There looked little danger as it sailed through the penalty area but Albion fatally switched off and allowed skipper Clarke to steal in beyond the back post and steer it back across goal and in off the post.
A poor goal to concede at an even poorer time of the game. The second game in a row that the Brewers had let a goal in just before the break and something that clearly hadnt been learned post Rotherham.
Half time: Burton Albion 0-1 Preston North End
Albion send on Sordell in place of O'Grady for the second half in search of a quick equaliser, O'Grady feeling a tight calm during the break, but it was Akins who squandered an early chance to peg Preston straight back. Good work from Ward down the right fashioned a chance just inside the box for the Albion wingback but he could only sky his effort high and wide.
Doyle flicked a header goalwards from a Daniel Johnson free kick as Preston tried to extend their advantage but McLaughlin was able to claim comfortably under his crossbar.
Jordan Hugill lashed a shot wide before Preston almost made Albion pay for more profligate defending. Mousinho was guilty of a poor pass out of defence, seized upon by Johnson and he was able to set up the overlapping Robinson for a rising drive that McLaughlin was able to turn over the bar.
Clough sent on Marcus Harness to try and use his pace to exploit possibly tiring legs in a Preston side that had played just 48 hours previously with Ward the man to make way and Akins moving up front.
Sordell saw a shot blocked inside the box leading to a corner and Akins was able to rise at the near post but unable to steer his header downwards and on target.
Hugill was guilty of heading wide at the back post from a deep cross from Johnson that would surely have sealed the game had he been able to put his effort on target.
And the visitors were almost made to pay for that missed opportunity when some neat passing worked a chance on Albion's right with Matty Palmer's low cross hacked clear from close range before Harness could close in and bury what would have been his first senior goal at Championship level.
Mousinho was replaced late on as Hamza Choudhury came on for what would be a farewell appearance in Albion colours, the Leicester youngster heading back to the King Power Stadium following Leicester's decision to recall their player.
Preston also called on fresh legs with the experienced pair of Paul Gallagher and Aiden McGeady asked to see out the game for the visitors whose game management showed their Championship nous when it mattered. Preston also sent on big striker Simon Makienok in the closing stages but he was not able to have any real influence on the game as Simon Grayson's side edged a game that was lacking anything in terms of a spark and provided very few New Year fireworks.