Preston suffered heartbreak on Monday night as a controversial late penalty handed West Bromwich Abion victory at Deepdale.
North End went into the game off the back of two defeats, but most importantly, with a host of injuries. Darnell Fisher, Patrick Bauer, Ben Davies and Andrew Hughes were all ruled out; arguably Preston’s strongest back four.
Alex Neil had to patch a defence together, featuring a number 10 at right back, a right back at left back and two centre backs who have barely featured this season.
Preston were under pressure in the first half, but held firm. West Brom were being frustrated by a hard-working and compact Preston side, and that continued for much of the second half too.
North End were a little more adventurous after the break, and created three big chances. Daniel Johnson forced an outstanding save from Sam Johnstone, Alan Browne had a shot blocked on the line and Jayden Stockley headed over from close range with the Baggies wobbling.
It looked like the game would peter out to a 0-0 draw, but there was a sting in the tail. Kyle Edwards broke through on goal in the dying stages, and tumbled over a challenge from Declan Rudd. The referee pointed to the spot, though replays show there was little to no contact.
Charlie Austin scored from the spot, leaving Preston devastated. An injury-hit side battled away against the league leaders and could have on another day, with a dive essentially needed to give West Brom all three points.
Alex Neil should be so proud of his team, and especially with Paul Huntington. That was his first league start since January, and just his second appearance of the season, yet he was superb alongside Jordan Storey.
The 32-year-old looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, and Preston fans took to Twitter to hail the ‘Cumbrian Cannavaro’, whose commitment to the club over the last seven years is well-appreciated.
Fans called Huntington ‘class’, ‘superb’ and ‘brilliant’, whilst praising his professionalism having been on the fringes of the side for so long in 2020.
huntington has been class tonight, defence have gelled really well considering we have a centre mid at right back and a centre back that hasn’t played all season, huntington’s done a great job as always
— Jayden || (@ftbl_jayden) December 2, 2019
Really proud of that performance, particularly second half. Can’t legislate for inept officials and cheats. Huntington the pick of the makeshift back four. #pnefc
— Jacob Maudsley (@JacobMaudsley) December 2, 2019
— Ed Smethurst (@edsmethurst86) December 2, 2019
but opinions ain’t facts 😀 also thought Hunts was class after being out for some long, tough one to take that after playing well and containing them up top, need to bounce back Saturday & get a few players back 👊🏻 #PNEFC
— Adam Luke Jackson (@AdamJackson1991) December 2, 2019
Hope people are deleting tweets about us getting hammered after seeing the team selection….🤦🏻♂️
Never looked a pen from where I was
Very harsh after the lads put everything into tonight
Hunts superb on his return to the team 👏🏻👏🏻 #pnefc
— Paul Hoy (@PaulHoy180) December 2, 2019
Tell you what. Huntington is just a class act. Sat out all that time….never moans then when called upon comes in and puts in yet another solid performance at the heart of the defence. It will be a sad day when he eventually leaves the club. What a servant he’s been. #pnefc
— Liam Fell (@liamfell2010) December 2, 2019
Horrible ending never a pen we go again and use that as fuel for this run of games, special shout out to hunts what an incredible top pro not played in league since Jan never moaned great for the young lads to see a pne legend for me #pnefc
— Ashley brown (@Ashbpne) December 2, 2019
Class having Hunts back in the team! Solid performance. 👍 #pnefc
— Chris Riley (@ChrisRiley25) December 2, 2019
Hunts top class tonight 👏🏻 think we needed to make some subs earlier tbf few players where tiring.. but robbed of a point.. cheers ref 👍🏻 onto Saturday! Thanks to everyone that helped with the flag etc #pnefc
— PNE home and away (@PNEhomeandaway) December 2, 2019
Ultimate pro, ultimate servant. You won't get any better than hunts for professionalism. Comes in and always does the job. 🙌🙌
— Jordan Philipson (@JPPNE98) December 2, 2019
You were brilliant Hunts, put a real shift in 💙#CumbrianCanavaro
— SLK1971 (@SLK1971PNE) December 2, 2019
Top class tonight Hunts!
— Alex Bullough (@BulloughPNE) December 2, 2019
Absolutely love Hunts, top class tonight, true pro #pnefc
— Sue Moss (@suemoss1) December 2, 2019
Class tonight, like he's never missed a step https://t.co/ng178yEFH2
— Ben (@BenWignall) December 3, 2019