Preston North End boss Alex Neil reaffirmed his commitment to the high-flying Championship club after seeing his side go top with substitute Paul Gallagher’s second-half penalty winner at Charlton.
Playing for the first time since North End responded forcibly to reports of Neil being a target for fellow Championship side Stoke City, the Lancashire side also did their talking on the pitch. And Neil was quick to back up the club’s firm stance the previous evening.
“I can’t control rumours and speculation,” he said. “But I can put a statement out to put it to bed. There is nothing to talk about.
“I am Preston North End manager. I love being here, I love working with my team and we crack on.
“I can tell you that I love working with this group of players. They are a special bunch and we want to try to keep doing what we are doing.
“I’ve been a manager for seven years. And when you’re hot, you’re hot, when you’re not, you’re not.
“In a couple of weeks people will be saying how hopeless I am. We’re really pleased with our start but nothing’s won after 15 games.”
The only goal of the game at The Valley came from the spot by skipper Gallagher, who bounced back from being substituted last week after only 29 minutes in the 3-2 comeback derby win over Blackburn Rovers.
It took a disputed penalty to earn the three points when home defender Jason Pearce’s grapples with Jayden Stockley proved sufficient to make the North End striker stumble to the floor.
But Gallagher – only on as a first-half sub for the injured Daniel Johnson – converted his trademark spot kick, facing the wrong way back down the pitch as he lined up over the ball, before then walking back to his mark and turning smartly to run in and slam home a right-foot power drive into home keeper Dillon Phillips’ bottom right corner.
Especially in the second half, Preston always looked the more likely side to score against a Charlton side who have had fewer shots this season than any other in the Championship.
Neil’s men could have won by more, but Phillips made a string of fine saves, notably two late on to deny Stockley and Tom Barkhuizen.
Yet, in the fifth of the nine minutes of time added on, Charlton almost snatched an equaliser when Preston keeper Declan Rudd missed Josh Cullen’s corner but Ben Purrington was unable to force the ball home.
North End started the day fourth, only three points ahead of 10th-placed Charlton. Their second away win of the season has taken them top of the second tier for the first time in 13 years as a result of having a one-goal better goal difference than Leeds United. But, going into the weekend, West Bromwich Albion led and the Baggies will be back on top on Monday night if they win at Neil’s reported suitors Stoke.
Charlton boss Lee Bowyer:
“A draw would probably have been a fair result but we will learn. It was a penalty. One of our most experienced players has made the wrong decision.
“They’re an experienced side who have been in that situation a lot. So it can be frustrating. But maybe we’ve got to learn to start doing that ourselves.
“On clear-cut chances I would have said it was quite even. But we were sloppy in possession, probably the worst we’ve been. We gave the ball away a lot. A frustrating day.”
Preston boss Alex Neil:
“The fact that I took Paul Gallagher off last week only means that I got the team selection wrong. This time he comes on and gets the winner.
“That’s why we are a team, not a group of individuals. We were good value for the win.
“We were the better side, created the better chances. That was a tough game and we did well to win it.”