Preston North End 2 Fulham 1
It is a sign of how long ago David Nugent’s previous Preston goal was that Tony Blair was Prime Minister at the time.
As he ended a 12-year wait on Tuesday night, he sent the club that propelled him to prominence back into the play-off places and inflicted a second successive defeat on Fulham.
If it was a damaging day for Scott Parker, Nugent brought a sentimental element to a bad-tempered game as referee Keith Stroud sent off two players and should have dismissed a third.
The only Preston player to score for England since the great Tom Finney, Nugent returned to North End in the summer via Portsmouth, Burnley, Leicester, Middlesbrough and Derby. He had failed to find the net in the first 10 appearances of his second spell but his named echoed around Deepdale last night. Few cared the long-awaited goal came in scruffy, scrappy style. Nugent bundled the ball over the line at the second attempt after Marek Rodak had parried Brad Potts’ low shot.
Preston had ended a 423-minute drought of their own. They had suffered four consecutive defeats without scoring as they had plummeted from second place. They finally had a goal to celebrate when Billy Bodin’s corner was flicked on by Alan Browne and Sean Maguire swivelled to shoot past Rodak. His own wait for a goal dated back 13 games to September, though Nugent’s was far longer.
Bodin justified manager Alex Neil’s decision to recall him with the quality of his supply line. His set-pieces presented a threat and Paul Huntington headed his free kick just wide, but he also provided a defence-splitting pass in open play. Maguire slid on to it and Rodak made a terrific block.
But Fulham had much to rue. They lost captain Tom Cairney, left behind at the hotel after falling ill, and then the red-carded Denis Odoi. Preston’s defensive injury crisis eased with Patrick Bauer’s return but it proved a painful comeback for the German. He was flattened when Odoi hurtled towards him and elbowed him in needless and reckless fashion. The surprise was that Stroud needed to consult with his assistant before sending him off.
But while Odoi gifted Preston a man advantage, they could have been reduced to nine players before half-time. Ben Pearson, who was sent off three times last season, was very fortunate he was only cautioned for a two-footed lunge on Josh Onomah. Joe Rafferty did get his marching orders for a high tackle on the substitute Joe Bryan. If it was as dangerous as Odoi’s elbow, Rafferty could count himself equally fortunate he did not do any lasting damage to his victim. Fulham launched a comeback in the final 20 minutes and Stefan Johansen struck the bar before the division’s top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic pulled a goal back with a deflected shot but it was Nugent’s night.
Preston (4-1-4-1): Rudd; Rafferty, Bauer, Huntington, Hughes; Pearson (Clarke 83); Bodin (Harrop 84), Potts, Browne, Maguire; Nugent (Barkhuizen 74).
Substitutes: Hudson (g), Bayliss, Ledson, Stockley.
Booked: Pearson, Browne, Huntington, Potts.
Sent off: Rafferty.
Fulham (4-4-2): Rodak; Christie, Mawson (Kebano 60), Ream; Odoi; Knockaert (De la Torre 90), Onomah, Johansen, Cavaleiro (Bryan 32); Mitrovic, Kamara.
Substitutes: Bettinelli (g), O’Riley, Taylor-Crossdale, Harris.
Sent off: Odoi.
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire).