Town bang in Play-Off picture after Celina special rounds off convincing win
Bersant Celina scored his third goal in a week as Town’s rollercoaster ride of a season took another upward turn.
The Manchester City loanee followed his strikes at Burton and Cardiff with another goal of the season contender, arrowing a right foot strike into the roof of the net just past the hour.
Blues were two up by then, an eighth goal of the season from Martyn Waghorn just before the break and a seventh of the campaign from David McGoldrick early in the second-half had put Town in control.
Celina’s strike insured there was no way back for the visitors as Town made it eight wins and seven defeats going into the international break, with Blues just a point off the Play-Offs with a game in hand.
McGoldrick and Waghorn were two of five changes to the side that lost at Cardiff in midweek as Mick McCarthy freshened things up.
It needed an excellent save inside the first five minutes from Bartosz Bialkowski to keep out Ben Pearson as Preston cut through the middle of the Town defence, McGoldrick responding for Blues immediately with a shot that was deflected wide.
Preston ‘keeper Chris Maxwell had a split second in hand as he made his clearance with Celina snapping at his heels, Waghorn then denied as he looked to get on the end of McGoldrick’s cross.
Jordan Hugill was shown a yellow card after referee Andrew Madley ran out of patience with the number of fouls from the Preston frontman, McGoldrick joining him in the book for what appeared to be dissent in a disjointed opening 20 minutes.
Town were forced into a change before the half hour with the injured Cole Skuse replaced by Kevin Bru.
Bialkowski held firm at his nearpost from a Thomas Barkhuizen cross, Kevin O’Connor clearing from Waghorn’s delivery as both sides struggled to make inroads into opposition territory.
Darnell Fisher was replaced by Marnick Vermijl as the catalogue of injuries outweighed the shots at goal, Adam Webster bravely clearing from Barkhuizen’s driven cross after Preston’s most influential player, Pearson had orchestrated the chance.
Town’s best move of the first-half led to the opener just before the break. Waghorn was brought down 25 yards out after Bru had played a support role and the former Rangers striker made Preston pay with curler that wrong-footed Maxwell.
North End were inches away from going in level at half-time though, Daniel Johnson cutting inside and seeing his left foot effort hit the top of the bar.
Blues doubled the lead three minutes after the restart, McGoldrick ghosting in at the back post from Jordan Spence’s cross and sending his header into the corner of the net.
Jonas Knudsen went close to getting an immediate third for Town after another excellent Spence delivery, then Callum Connolly saw his chip headed off the line as the game opened up.
Barkhuizen rifled a shot wide as Preston looked for a way back into the game, the striker then testing Bialkowski from distance but Blues began to threaten on the break and Knudsen’s left foot screamer went just over.
Blues made it three on 64 minutes and in spectacular style, Spence feeding Celina down the right and the Kosovo international smashed his shot into the roof of the net to take his tally to six for the season.
Grant Ward replaced Connolly, Tristan Nydam on for Waghorn, the August signing from Rangers receiving a warm ovation from the Blue Army.
It was Town who looked more likely to add to the scoreline than Preston grab a lifeline and McGoldrick warmed the hands of Maxwell with a drive from the edge of the box as Blues eased to the three points and a seventh place berth in the Championship.
Town: Bialkowski, Spence, Chambers, Webster, Knudsen, Waghorn (Nydam 79), Skuse (Bru 30), Connolly, Celina (Ward 65), McGoldrick, Garner. Subs not used: Gerken, Iorfa, Sears, Kenlock. Booked: McGoldrick.
Preston: Maxwell, Pearson, Boyle, Browne, Hugill, Johnson (Harrop 62), Fisher, (Vermijl 36), Welsh (Gallagher 70), Huntington, O’Connor, Barkhuizen. Subs not used: Hudson, Horgan, Mavididi, Robinson. Booked: Hugill, Welsh, Pearson.