Second half strikes from Daniel Johnson and Paul Gallagher handed United their first defeat on the road in the league since late October, on a disappointing afternoon at Deepdale.There was one change to Mark Robins’ starting XI, with Andrew Boyce replacing the injured Alex Davey at centre-half.
Meanwhile. Miguel Llera was named amongst the substitutes once more after missing Tuesday’s game with Chesterfield.
Gary McSheffrey, fresh from a two-match ban, returned to the Iron squad for the first time since his return to former club Coventry City, however had to settle for a place on the bench.
Preston kicked off the game in their traditional white kit with navy blue shorts, while Scunthorpe donned their Irish Iron green strip, attacking the stand that hosted the 464 strong group of boisterous United fans.
From the beginning you got the feeling this game could be a tight one, with two very impressive sides in decent form battled it out for those all-important three points, which meant that a lot of the game would be played out in the middle of the park.
Paul Gallagher smashed well wide in the first two minutes of the game, while for the Iron, Jordan Clarke had his long range effort tamely held, while Liam O’Neil tried a pot-luck effort from just inside the Lilywhites half, with ex-Scunthorpe ‘keeper Sam Johnstone slicing a clearance to the West Brom loanee after coming well out of his box to clear a ball, but the Iron man’s speculative striker swerved well away from goal.
The Iron were gifted with a good chance to pose a threat just after the quarter of an hour mark, as Liam O’Neil was fouled right on 90 degree corner of the box. He floated one in to the danger area, and Dutch forward Kevin van Veen rose highest, but despite making a good connection with the ball, Johnstone dived well to his right to hold fairly comfortably.
Shortly after, the visitors came within a whisker of taking a deserved lead. A looping headed clearance from Boyce around the centre semi-circle evaded the Preston midfield and through to O’Neil. The central-midfielder persisted with his run forward, forcing an error from Paul Huntingdon as the PNE defender let the ball bounce over his head, before poking the ball through to Tom Hopper. The young striker took a touch, steadied himself then let fly with a vicious dipping effort, but the ball narrowly fizzed over the bar.
Down the other end in-form forward Joe Garner couldn’t believe his luck when he escaped round the back of the United defence to get a free header in on goal, but despite Daniels producing a superb stop to deny the former Scunthorpe loanee, the linesman flagged for offside.
The home team were well and truly stung in to life, with the Lilywhites dominating the following ten minutes of play. Callum Robinson struck wide of the mark for the hosts, before Hopper produced a fantastic challenge to thwart an impending cross after the Iron defence did well to clear the initial danger.
Chris Humphrey rounded off the strong spell for Simon Grayson’s men with a rifled a shot on goal after making some space for himself on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t force a save out of Daniels, with the ball missing the mark once more.
On the half-hour mark, Scunthorpe forced the question through an attack that came as a result of a cleared corner. With the initial set-piece not causing any issues for the North End defence, van Veen was played in through the middle before presenting himself with a shooting opportunity. His strike was pushed away by Johnstone, only finding the on-coming Paddy Madden, but a combination of Johnstone and Scott Laird force the Irishman’s shot in to the side of the net.
A couple of chances from the ever-present Garner, first of drawing an easy save from Daniels after counter-attacking a corner, before volleying from a cross from the left wing, which the Scunthorpe ‘keeper was also in position to stop.
What happened next for the former Nottingham Forest striker was quite remarkable, with a goal for the hosts seemingly a dead certain. A pull-back by Robinson landed at the feet of Garner who was in yards of space on the penalty spot, but the striker who has already managed 14 goals this season for Preston, got his feet muddled up a fluffed his lines.
With little else to report as the first half petered out towards a goalless first period, after the one minute of added time was up referee Kevin Wright brought the opening half to a close at the break.
Half-time brought about a change for the Iron, as Kevin van Veen was substituted in place of wide-man Gary McSheffrey.
Robinson christened the second 45 minutes with its first shot, but it blazed high and wide of the mark.
The Iron registered the halves most meaningful chance when Johnstone flapped at an O’Neil corner, with Madden watching the ball in the air, and following through with a measured volley that parted the melee of players in the box, but couldn’t make it past the final man on the line with Paul Gallagher turning the ball away from goal.
Just before the hour mark, the deadlock was broken. A neat passage of play deftly found its way to Robinson on the left, who played the ball along the ground across goal, with Daniel Johnson opening up his body to turn the ball home, with Daniels unable to get enough of his glove to the ball.
North End followed up their goal with an immediate chance to double the advantage, with Gallagher shooting point blank at Daniels from close range, but Daniels firmly got behind the ball to collect. Marcus Williams then came to the Iron’s saviour as he cleared a flicked on corner shortly after off the line.
Isaiah Osbourne was sent on in place of George Evans on the 62nd minute; with the former easing his way back in to the team after suffering an injury back against Coventry City.
Shortly after, the Iron received the received the first yellow card of the day, after a late challenge right in front of the dugouts on Preston captain Tom Clarke.
Preston continued to press, and they got their reward with the games second goal of the afternoon on 70 minutes. A shot from Robinson moved in the air with Daniels getting down well to parry away, however the ball fell perfectly in line with the run of Humphrey who squared across goal to find Gallagher, who thumped the ball past the stranded Daniels and in to the back of the net to make it two goals to nil to the hosts.
Jordan Clarke joined McSheffrey in the book with another foul conceded around the edge of the area, with the resulting free-kick being dropped by Daniels at the far post with Robinson lurking, but Marcus Williams managed to intervene, punting the ball in to the stands.
McSheffrey eased the pressure around the United penalty box with an angled volley up the other end of the pitch after the ball dropped kindly for him, while at the other end during another surge forward by Grayson’s men, Canavan’s clearance of the initial cross fell to goal scorer Johnson, but he smashed wide.
Preston made their first change of the game replacing John Welsh with former Leeds midfielder Neil Kilkenny, as the game began to run away from the visitors from North Lincolnshire.
With the 80th minute mark looming, Joe Garner became the first Preston player to enter the referee’s notebook, receiving a yellow after disputing a free-kick given against him. The resulting set-piece handed the Iron one of their best chances of the second half, as Boyce nodded down for Madden, who arrowed his attempt narrowly over from 12-yards.
With seven minutes remaining Robins brought on youngster Kyle Wootton in place of captain Bishop, as the game entered its final stages. A few minutes later the hosts used their last two substitutions to freshen up their front-line, with Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Kevin Davies replacing Paul Gallagher and Joe Garner.
With two minutes remaining of normal time left, Daniels produced another good stop to deny Humphrey’s piledriver, parrying high in to the air before the linesman flagged for offside for the follow-up.
Five minutes of stoppage time was added on by referee Wright, but with neither side able to create any real noteworthy chance, the whistle was blown on a difficult day in the North West of England for Scunthorpe.
Preston North End: Johnstone, Clarke, Huntington, Wright, Humphrey, Welsh (Kilkenny 76), Johnson, Laird, Gallagher (Ebanks-Blake, 85), Garner (K.Davies, 85), Robinson.
Substitutes not used: Stuckmann, Buchanan, Wiseman, Reid.
Scunthorpe United: Daniels, Clarke, Boyce, Canavan, Williams, Bishop (Wootton, 83), O'Neil, Evans (Osbourne, 62), Madden, van Veen (McSheffrey, 45), Hopper.
Substitutes not used: Anyon, Nolan, Llera, Adelakun.
Attendance: 9,414 (464 away).