Leeds United gratefully accepted the Christmas present of three points wrapped up for them as they made it three wins from four games with a narrow success against 10-man Preston at Elland Road.
The Whites were well below their best and were happy to waste time in the closing stages after failing to make the most of their opponents going down to 10 men when goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was sent off just after the half-hour.
But they emerged 1-0 winners thanks to a own goal from Preston midfielder Alan Browne in the first minute of the second half.
Up against a side managed by ex-United boss Simon Grayson, Leeds head coach Steve Evans made just one change from the team that won at Wolves on Thursday with Luke Murphy brought in to replace the ill Tom Adeyemi in midfield, but the Whites were slow out of the blocks.
Goalkeeper Marco Silvestri, who went on be United’s man of the match, had to get down well to tip Paul Gallagher’s free-kick wide in only the second minute.
Liam Bridcutt hit a 25-yarder over at the other end, but Silvestri had to come to the hosts’ rescue again on eight minutes as he came out quickly to save at the feet of Will Keane.
The Leeds keeper then made a superb save a minute later to tip a terrific 20-yard shot by Joe Garner wide.
United gradually came into the game and began creating chances. The best fell to Chris Wood as he was sent in behind the Preston defence following a great run and pass by Bridcutt, but he could not beat the advancing Pickford with a chip.
Bridcutt saw a strike from distance deflected wide and Wood chested the ball down well from a corner only to send his volley well over.
On 31 minutes Wood chased Scott Wootton’s long clearance and got to the ball first ahead of keeper Pickford, but the Preston stopper was outside his box as the ball appeared to hit his outstretched arm.
Referee Gavin Ward had a long think before producing a red card to reduce the visitors to 10 men for the last hour of the game.
Preston put on 17-year-old keeper Matt Hudson for his first team debut and he was relieved to see Giuseppe Bellusci’s free-kick go inches over.
With their extra man Leeds exerted more pressure, but were unable to score before the break with Sam Byram hitting a snap shot over and being unable to get on the end of a dangerous cross by Murphy as he appeared to be put off the close attention of a defender.
Within 30 seconds of the start of the second half, Leeds’ luck changed, however, when Preston’s Browne could only head a Dallas cross past his own young keeper into the net.
It should have been the cue for a United onslaught and Charlie Taylor curled a free-kick over and Murphy hit a shot wide, but they failed to test the nerves of Hudson for the remainder of a disappointing second half.
Instead it was Preston’s 10 men who looked more like scoring with Silvestri saving twice to deny the visitors’ former Leeds player Neil Kilkenny who came on as an effective sub for them.
Silvestri was forced into another save from Marnick Vermijl’s back post header and was United’s saviour again when tipping a Kilkenny header over late on.
Leeds fluffed a few decent chances to break on their opponents and ended up happy to break up play, but knew they were fortunate to win a game in which they only managed one shot on target.
Leeds boss Evans admitted his side had rode their luck this time, but was proud of the way the players kept going despite feeling tired after playing on Thursday night.
He said: “We cannot take any credit for the performance in the second half.
“I think in the last half-hour we looked particularly tired, but we came back from Wolverhampton with the boys on the team coach and the roadworks and traffic situation meant we didn`t get to Elland Road until nearly 3am.
“We knew as a management team that it would have a factor when you are not resting and recovering properly, so I will excuse them today for looking tired in the last 10 minutes because we are one of the fittest teams in the Championship.”
Leeds United 1
(Browne og 46)
Preston North End 0
Sunday, December 20, 2015
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Silvestri, Wootton, Bellusci, Cooper, Taylor, Byram, Bridcutt, Murphy (Doukara 64), Cook, Dallas (Phillips 90+4), Wood (Antenucci 82).
Preston: Pickford (sent off 31), Cunningham, Clarke, Huntington, Vermijl, Welsh (Hudson 34), Gallagher, Browne (Kilkenny 55), Reach, Keane (Doyle 87), Garner.
Referee: Gavin Ward.