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St Andrews Stadium (ATT 24,825) 25th April 2009 - Kick off 17:20 Ref: P Dowd

Birmingham Birmingham City vs Preston North End Preston

McKenna hypnotises Blues

Lilywhites spoil potential Blues promotion party

By Chris Quinn.   Last Updated: 25/04/09 8:18pm

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Preston: Claimed vital victory

Preston: Claimed vital victory

Two wonder strikes from Preston kept their play-off hopes alive and spoiled Birmingham's potential promotion party.

Keith Fahey had given Birmingham the lead with a free header on 57 minutes before Paul McKenna, breaking Sir Tom Finney's appearance record, pulled The Lilywhites level with a fantastic 30-yard strike.

Ross Wallace then struck the winner three minutes from time for Preston with a fantastic left-footed free-kick that gave Maik Taylor no chance.

Birmingham had Lee Bowyer sent-off for an off-the-ball clash with Lee Williamson who also saw red. But Preston ended the game with nine men after Wallace received his second yellow card for taking his shirt off in celebration of his goal.

History was on Preston's side as they went into the encounter having won six of the previous seven meetings between the two clubs.

Both teams settled into their stride early on with Blues looking the more menacing in attack - and the first clear-cut opening went their way in the 17th minute.

Sebastian Larsson chipped the ball over the North End defence and with Bowyer challenging keeper Andy Lonergan, the ball broke free to Garry O'Connor.

With Lonergan out of position, the striker tried his luck from the edge of the area but Billy Jones was on hand to head clear.

Sedgwick striked post

Preston then reminded the hosts of their threat midway through the half when Mellor's left-wing cross evaded everyone before coming back off Maik Taylor's far post, Chris Sedgwick firing the rebound into the side netting.

Franck Queudrue was penalised for trying to punch the ball into the net while Preston were looking dangerous at the other end.

But neither side could find the opener as the first half drew to a close.

Birmingham-born Aston Villa fan Sean St Ledger wasted a glorious opportunity to become party pooper within the opening stages of the second half when he somehow headed wide from close range with the goal at his mercy.

And the Lilywhites paid the price in the 57th minute as Fahey lost Sedgwick at the far post before heading home James McFadden's right-wing cross to send St Andrew's wild.

Matters soon heated up on the pitch as Bowyer and Williamson were shown straight red cards for violent conduct after a supposed clash of heads.

Stunning strike

And out of nowhere North End levelled courtesy of a stunner from McKenna - drilling the ball into the top corner from fully 30 yards after Carr's clearance header.

Jerome thought he had won it for Blues only to see his header ruled out for offside, before coming within inches of converting McFadden's cross.

Fahey then drilled over for Blues before Jerome was guilty of blazing over the bar from just six yards when he really should have scored.

But Wallace stole the show for the visitors before seeing red in a dramatic finale which also saw St Ledger clear off the line.

The result leaves Birmingham just one point ahead of third-placed Sheffield United ahead of their trip to the Madjeski Stadium next Sunday, while the Blades go to Crystal Palace.

North End, meanwhile, are two points adrift of sixth-placed Burnley and three off Cardiff in fifth and host QPR on what is going to be some final day.

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Sky Bet Championship

Sky Bet Championship
Pos Team P Pts
1 Norwich City 10 20
2 Nottingham Forest 10 20
3 Watford 10 20
4 Derby County 10 19
5 Ipswich Town 10 18
6 Charlton Athletic 10 18
7 Wolverhampton Wanderers 10 18
8 Middlesbrough 10 17
9 Sheffield Wednesday 10 16
10 Reading 10 15
11 Blackburn Rovers 10 14
12 Leeds United 10 14
13 Brentford 10 14
14 Cardiff City 10 13
15 Bournemouth 10 12
16 Millwall 10 11
17 Rotherham United 10 11
18 Huddersfield Town 10 11
19 Brighton and Hove Albion 10 10
20 Birmingham City 10 10
21 Wigan Athletic 10 9
22 Fulham 10 7
23 Bolton Wanderers 10 5
24 Blackpool 10 3