Alamy Stock Photo Will Smallbone celebrates his goal.
# Wrap
Smallbone on target in Stoke win, Azaz nets twice for Plymouth Argyle
Will Smallbone scored in a 2-0 win for the Potters at Preston.

TWO EXPERTLY TAKEN goals from Will Smallbone and Tyrese Campbell inside eight second-half minutes propelled Stoke to a wholly deserved 2-0 win at Preston.

Stoke’s win meant a successful first return to Deepdale for former Preston boss Alex Neil, who has revived hopes of a promotion challenge after taking charge of the Potters in August.

Ireland U21 midfielder Smallbone, on loan from Southampton, sparked joyous scenes among more than 3,000 travelling fans behind Freddie Woodman’s goal when he stroked Stoke in front after 58 minutes and Campbell was equally clinical in the 66th.

Campbell, who limped off soon after his goal, had the game’s first chance. The impressive Dujon Sterling, on loan from Chelsea, fed a low ball behind Preston’s backline but Woodman rushed out to save at Campbell’s feet.

Preston were uncharacteristically sloppy in possession, harried to distraction by an industrious away side. They waited 23 minutes for a first opportunity, Jordan Storey’s hooked effort deflected behind. Lewis Baker blocked when Storey rose highest at the resultant corner.

Phil Jagielka, immaculate at the heart of a three-man Stoke backline, thwarted a pair of 18-yard strikes.

But Stoke attacked with greater conviction than the home team. Sterling bent beyond the far post after controlling Smallbone’s flighted left-wing delivery and Storey intervened on the cover when Dwight Gayle hesitated before shooting when clean through.

Stoke had shaded a relatively even opening half but Preston will rue two penalty decisions. Andrew Hughes stumbled with Sterling in close attendance but the contact, if any, was minimal.

The most vociferous shout came after Jagielka inadvertently handled when a ball reared sharply in the box moments before the break but a penalty would have been harsh.

Smallbone and Campbell, though, would ultimately supply the goals to earn Stoke the three points their accomplished performance deserved and continue the Neil-inspired revival.

Gayle was the architect for the first, speeding down the left and squaring for the onrushing Smallbone, who assuredly side-footed from 12 yards into the bottom-left corner. 

Woodman did not stand a chance with Smallbone’s effort – and the Preston goalkeeper was equally helpless when Campbell exquisitely doubled the visitors’ advantage.

Baker’s pass over the top invited the electric Campbell to chase. Reaching the 18-yard line, he shifted the ball onto his left foot and placed a precision finish inside the far post.

The result sees Neil’s revitalised side leap six places to 11th, only three points outside the top six. Preston, meanwhile, slip four positions to 12th, level with Stoke on 19 points.

Elsewhere in the Championship, Elliot Embleton and Dennis Cirkin led a second-half Sunderland comeback to secure a first win in five games for Tony Mowbray’s side with a 2-1 victory over Wigan.

Managerless Middlesbrough dropped into the relegation zone as their problems continued to mount with a 2-1 home defeat to Blackburn. Rovers returned to winning ways at the Riverside thanks to an early own goal from Ireland defender Darragh Lenihan and a superb long-range finish from Sam Gallagher.

Jay Rodriguez struck twice as Burnley despatched 10-man Swansea 4-0 to step up their Championship promotion push.

Coventry ended a run of nine successive away defeats in the Championship as they notched only their second win of the season thanks to a first-half goal from Viktor Gyokeres at Cardiff City Stadium. Blackpool had three players sent off at 

Sheffield United’s Oliver Norwood scored a 98th-minute equaliser in a 3-3 thriller with Blackpool. Blackpool saw Marvin Ekpiteta and Dominic Thompson both sent off during normal time, with Sheffield’s Wes Foderingham and Blackpool’s Shayne Lavery then both shown red cards following an incident after the full-time whistle.

Zian Flemming hit a 76th-minute winner to give Millwall a 2-1 victory over Bristol City at Ashton Gate, while managerless West Brom defeated Reading 2-0 to end their eight-match run without a league win.

In League One, Ireland U21 international Finn Azaz netted twice in Plymouth Argyle’s 4-1 win at MK Dons.

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