City were beaten by a solitary first-half goal in their first game since the departure of head coach Sean O’Driscoll.
Jack King’s 33rd minute header clinched maximum points for high-flying Preston North End, who were fortunate to hang on when Scott Wagstaff’s long-range shot struck the crossbar late on.
Both teams were reduced to ten men in stoppage time as a clash between Karleigh Osborne and Paul Gallagher culminated in the dismissal of both players.
John Pemberton named an unchanged side after City came from behind twice to secure a point against then league leaders Leyton Orient in Sean O’Driscoll’s last match in charge.
Hosts Preston started the brighter, with Leicester City loanee Gallagher trying his luck from range either side of a speculative Jay Emmanuel-Thomas strike which cleared the crossbar by some distance.
It was a game not short of early half-chances, as Aden Flint rose highest to meet Greg Cunningham’s free kick but could not keep his header down, while more slick Preston interplay was not rewarded by a tame Gallagher shot straight at Elliott Parish.
Then it was City’s turn to threaten again. First Sam Baldock chased down a lost cause just before the advancing keeper but could not prod the ball on target, before an Emmanuel-Thomas burst down the left created a chance for Simon Gillett, who had time to take a touch only to scuff his effort wide as the ball sat up kindly from 15 yards.
The visitors were growing in confidence and causing problems from set-pieces. This time the towering Flint connected with a Wagstaff corner, only for Declan Rudd in the Preston goal to be perfectly placed to make a point-blank save. Anywhere else on target, the defender would have been celebrating the opening goal.
But it was North End who went in front 12 minutes before the interval – ironically from a dead ball.
Gallagher’s free kick was predictably tossed in the direction of Kevin Davies, who did his bit with a flick on that was converted with a header of his own by the stooping King from six yards.
Suddenly it was the home team in confident mood. Gallagher’s shot had Parish scrambling back across his goal after a hefty deflection off Karleigh Osborne, before Bailey Wright headed the resulting corner over the crossbar.
It would prove to be a relatively subdued second half, with nothing to report until the three-quarter mark when Baldock was only a couple of yards away from finding a stunning equaliser.
Emmanuel-Thomas’ right-footed pass out to his strike partner on the left wing was exceptional. As Baldock stepped inside, he went for power with a 25-yard angled drive which just fizzed beyond the far post.
Emmanuel-Thomas then forced Rudd into an easy save from a glancing header, but these were very much isolated highlights until Wagstaff’s left-footed shot looked destined for the top corner only to hit the crossbar.
Gillett’s brave header straight at Rudd provided another ‘what if’ moment soon after, before referee Richard Clark brandished red cards to both Osborne and Gallagher following an innocuous clash which sparked a mass brawl.
Never had City been outplayed in the game, but, very much in keeping with the O’Driscoll tenure, Pemberton’s Robins were unable to find the result they craved.