In the build-up to this match, Preston manager Alex Neil reiterated that nothing is decided at this stage of the season, but his side continue to produce the sort of results that will put them in a position to take those big prizes in the coming months.
Faced with another daunting task in the shape of a Huddersfield side who made the trip to Deepdale unbeaten in their last seven games, goals from Jayden Stockley, Alan Browne and a penalty from Paul Gallagher saw them take firm control of this game by the hour mark, before riding out some late pressure for the Terriers, for whom Juninho Bacuna’s late strike would ultimately come to nothing.
Against a team likely to have been full of confidence after that impressive run of form, Preston will have wanted to lay down an early marker, and the Lilywhites would do just that with their first chance of the game.
After Stockley was fouled on the edge of the Huddersfield area, captain Paul Gallagher – back in the starting lineup in place of injured top scorer Daniel Johnson – produced a brilliant free-kick which cannoned back of the post, with Stockley himself reacting quickest to head Preston into an early lead from the rebound.
Having seized the initiative, Preston looked to press home their advantage quickly, and they would go close to doing that not long after the opener, with a Gallagher free-kick once again causing problems for the Huddersfield defence, as a smart cutback from the by-line found an unmarked Sean Maguire inside the area, with the attacker’s effort blocked at close range before being scrambled to safety.
While Huddersfield did show some early intent to respond, the Terriers would then hand Preston another opportunity to extend their advantage.
A loose Trevoh Chalobah pass inside the North End was pounced on by Tom Barkhuizen, with the attacker then going on what is becoming something a trademark run into the opposition half, before laying the ball off for Stockley who dragged his effort wide from the edge of the area.
That second would eventually come for Preston with ten minutes to go until half time, with the hosts making their pressure tell, as a ball into the area from Barkhuizen’s cross was able to evade all in the centre of the area, before midfielder Browne arrived at the back post to fire home his first of the season.
Indeed, Preston could have been even further clear at the break, but for a pair of goalline clearances to deny Stockley and Patrick Bauer from a succession of North End corners, as Huddersfield, who found themselves growing increasingly frustrated with the decisions of referee Geoff Eltringham, failing to force Preston goalkeeper Declan Rudd into a save in the opening 45 minutes.
Although they were unable to find that third goal before the break, it wouldn’t take North End long to do just that after the restart, captain Paul Gallagher smashing in his second penalty in as many games after Terence Kongolo handled in the Huddersfield area five minutes after the break.
The Terriers would then get their first sight of goal of the game, but, as had been the case with much of their time on the ball so far in the game, it was wasted, as Karlan Grant pulled an effort wide from the edge of the area after Lewis O’Brien had done well to win possession and then find the striker.
Although Huddersfield continued to press, it was Preston who continued to look the more dangerous for a time, with Stockley and Bauer both firing wide with a free header and half-volley respectively.
But with little more than a quarter of an hour to go, Huddersfield would find themselves with a seemingly unlikely route back into the game, as Juninho Bacuna – one of their most potent attacking threats during their recent run of form – picked up the ball midway inside the Preston half, embarking on a driving run into the North End before firing past Rudd into the bottom corner to make it 3-1.
It was a moment that finally seemed to give Huddersfield some momentum in the game, and they very nearly pulled another back as the clocked ticked down, as substitute Alex Pritchard saw a goalbound header blocked behind for a corner which North End would eventually force to safety.
In the end however, it would be a case of too little too late for Huddersfield, as Preston rode out that late pressure to end their opponents unbeaten run – extending their own invincibility at Deepdale in the league this season – to retain that all-important place in the Championship’s top two.