Jermaine Beckford score late in the first half to send Dale to a 1-0 defeat despite a battling display at Deepdale.
Beckford’s goal from a tight angle was the only goal in a tight game from which Dale deserved more.
Rhys Bennett had a first half header ruled out for offside, whilst Ian Henderson sent a header over from close range, the latter the best chance Dale had to equalise in the second half.
Keith Hill made four changes to the side that beat Yeovil Town 2-1 last Saturday. Josh Lillis returned in goal because on loan Jamie Jones was ineligible to play against his parent club. Ashley Eastham returned to fitness in time to replace Jack O’Connell who returned to Brentford following the victory last weekend. Peter Vincenti also recovered from his injury to replace Scott Tanser, whilst Bastien Hery came in for Callum Camps.
However, Oliver Lancashire picked up an injury in the warm-up which meant Tanser stepped into left back with Tom Kennedy moving inside to centre-half. Second year scholar Billy Hasler-Cregg stepped up to the vacant spot on the bench.
Despite the changes, Dale started the game extremely well and took the game to the home side. Michael Rose’s set-pieces have been excellent in recent matches, and he forced Sam Johnstone into action in the third minute. His free-kick from the right side was swerving and forced Johnstone to push it wide of his left post.
Ian Henderson stepped in as Captain after Lancashire’s late withdrawal, and he had a sight of goal in the tenth minute. Joe Bunney did really well to beat Scott Laird on the right side and send a ball across goal, but Henderson couldn’t flick the ball goalwards and sent it wide.
The first real chance of the game fell to the hosts on the break. The ball found its way to Callum Robinson open on the left and he drove at goal, but his effort was well saved by Lillis and out for a corner.
Preston came back into the game as proceedings evened out, but Dale were still playing some good football and thought they had taken the lead just before the half hour mark. Kennedy clipped a ball over the top which Henderson flicked into the middle of the area for Rhys Bennett, who headed over Johnstone into the back of the net. However, the assistant referee’s flag was up for an offside decision against Bennett.
The brief celebrations from the Dale fans were cut short but it would have been no more than their start deserved.
However, Keith Hill’s side would go into the break 1-0 down as Beckford put Preston ahead. A throw-in from the left came to the striker, and he brought the ball down, turned and struck a quick shot past Lillis from a tight angle.
It was a harsh blow for Dale but they were determined to get level before half-time and struck the woodwork just two minutes later. Hery picked out Andy Cannon on the right, he beat his man and played the ball across the face of goal which took a deflection, forcing Johnstone to tip the ball onto his near post before the defence cleared.
Lillis had to be alert to stop the home side doubling their lead just before the break when he saved Daniel Johnson’s dipping effort from distance, with Joe Garner sending the follow up harmlessly across the face of goal.
The first chance of the second half fell to Dale it should have resulted in an equaliser. Tanser sent a great ball in from the left side which picked out Henderson perfectly, but he sent his header over when he should have scored.
The home fans will have been thinking the same just four minutes later though when Garner sent a header wide of the target. Johnson’s cross picked their leading scorer out, but his stooping header glanced off him and wide of Lillis’ left post.
Keith Hill made two changes in quick succession as Dale looked for an equaliser, with Hery and Bunney coming off for Reuben Noble-Lazarus and Calvin Andrew, who was making his first appearance in over six weeks due to injury.
Garner had another header on goal with thirteen minutes to play, but this time Lillis managed to save with his legs at the back post to deny the home side killing the game off.
Febian Brandy came on for VIncenti with ten minutes to go as Hill made a last throw of the dice, but Dale struggled to create anything and it was the home side who had the best chances to score.
A smart free-kick found Johnson free in the area, but he scuffed his shot well wide of Lillis’ left post. The Dale goalkeeper was forced into action in the 90th minute as he made a superb save from left-back Laird. His shot was struck well and looked set to ripple the net, but Lillis made a flying save to keep Dale in the game.
However, despite a few balls sent into the Preston area, Dale couldn’t carve out a chance and the referee blew his whistle after four minutes of added time.