Despite a comfortable two-nil lead at half time, Aston Villa could not hold their nerve at a bitterly cold Villa Park, as a Jordan Hugill double saw Preston North End salvage a well earned point.
Albert Adomah put in a stellar first half performance for the Villans, grabbing two goals to put the home team firmly in the driving seat at the break.
However, the game turned on its head in the second half and it was the visitors who took the initiative with forward Hugill dispatching two well taken goals to ensure the Northerners didn’t leave empty handed.
The first 20 minutes were a cagey affair with neither side creating clear cut chances. Agbonlahor floated a dangerous ball across the Preston box in the 12th minute, but youngster Andre Green could only glance his header wide.
Preston did look dangerous when on the attack as the natural pace of Callum Robinson left centre halves Baker and Elphick flat footed at times, but they did not overly trouble the Villa goal.
Villa seized the lead in the 22nd minute after some neat work from Jack Grealish fed the ball into Agbonlahor whose heavy touch created a scrap with Preston’s keeper. The resulting tussle led to the ball rolling free to an unmarked Adomah who had the easiest of jobs, finishing into an empty net.
This sent the Villa faithful into raptures and they didn’t have to wait long for another goal, with Adomah doubling their lead from the spot in the 35th minute. The Ghanaian international powered his way into the box from the right but was brought down by a sliding Aiden McGeady. The resulting penalty was fired high into the back of the net.
Half time came and the Preston fans’ frustrations were boiling over as the stewards had to intervene on numerous occasions to keep them off the pitch.
However, the second 45 minutes showed why it was a game of two halves. The Lilywhites came out fighting and soon got just reward for their graft. A counter attack following a Villa corner led to Englishman Hugill having the ball on the edge of the Villa D, only to be left with acres of space to expertly curl the his effort past a stranded Sam Johnstone.
This goal seemed to shock Villa and the visitors pressed on, getting forward in numbers to search for an equaliser. Such a moment came in the 77th minute when Hugill once again got into the mix, this time heading in at the back post after a sublime cross from McGeady.
Such an assist made up for his earlier penalty error and proved the difference, as a fading Villa could find no late response to steal all 3 points.
This result all but ends Villa’s chances of promotion this year as the club sit 9 points behind 6th placed Sheffield Wednesday, a gap that would take title-winning form to close.
Preston on the other hand will go back to Deepdale buoyed by their second half comeback. They will fancy their chances going into the last 19 games to make the play-offs.