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Alex Neil hails battling Preston’s character

Alex Neil said his Preston side deserved great credit after grinding out a 2-0 win at Stoke despite “one of our poorest performances in quite a while”.

Alan Browne and Tom Barkhuizen were on target as promotion-chasing Preston ensured Neil’s first visit to the Bet365 Stadium since spurning Stoke’s advances earlier in the season proved to be a positive one.

The result saw North End close the gap on the automatic places to three points.

“I’m happy in that we won the game,” said Neil. “We didn’t play anywhere near as well as we can.

“We get the first goal off a set-play but I’m not going to make any apologies for that.

“We showed different strengths from what we normally do. We showed great resolve, great grit and did the basics really well.

“That was certainly one of our poorest performances in quite a while but we got the job done.

“We’re three points off second – we just need to get across the line.

“It wasn’t pretty – nobody’s talking about this game in a week’s time.”

Neither side threatened to break the deadlock until the 25th minute, when James McClean laid the ball off for Sam Clucas, whose low effort from 20 yards was cleared off the line by Ben Davies.

Two minutes later Tyrese Campbell cut in from the right and curled an effort towards the top corner, only for Preston goalkeeper Declan Rudd to deny him with an outstanding full-stretch save.

Rudd clawed away a Danny Batth header from Tommy Smith’s free-kick after 34 minutes as the hosts finished the first half strongly.

Stoke remained dominant after the interval and Campbell should have opened the scoring after 56 minutes when his shot on the turn from 12 yards flashed inches wide of the post.

Instead Preston went ahead two minutes later with their first shot on target. Daniel Johnson’s corner ricocheted off Davies and Browne reacted fastest to poke home from inside the six-yard box.

Barkhuizen doubled Preston’s lead 15 minutes from time after Davies’ aerial presence again caused problems, allowing the former Morecambe forward to stroke home.

Neil added: “After we took the lead I had no worries whatsoever.

“I think Stoke are very much a momentum-based team. If they get the first goal it suits them even more because they can sit even deeper and they’ve got pace at the other end of the pitch to cause you problems.”

Stoke manager Michael O’Neill felt his side deserved something from the game.

“We feel a bit hard done-by,” he said.

“I thought we were more than a match for Preston for large portions of the game and we looked the side more likely to score in the game as well.

“We’ve been done off two set-pieces. We just didn’t manage to get ahead and then we were punished as a result of that.

“We’re playing against a team pushing for promotion at the top end of the table and we were more than a match for them.

“It shows you the margins in terms of how you lose a game and it’s disappointing because we had a chance to jump two or three places in the table tonight and it hasn’t happened for us.”