IT was a night of firsts at Preston as Leeds United put themselves right back in the race for a top two place in the Npower Championship.
Simon Grayson’s men enjoyed their first Tuesday night league victory of the season and the clinching goal was scored by Billy Paynter - his long awaited first since moving from Swindon last summer.
Midfielder Neil Kilkenny was United’s other scorer with his first league goal of the campaign in a 2-1 victory that lifted them up to fifth place, above Nottingham Forest, who lost to Sheffield United.
After Swansea outplayed them at the end of last month Leeds found themselves eight points adrift of second place only on Saturday morning, but in a remarkable turnaround are now just three behind following back to back victories while most of their rivals have faltered.
The second of the wins came at bottom of the table Preston when they earned a little revenge for the shock 6-4 defeat to the same opponents at Elland Road.
There was no goal fest this time, but the match started in exciting style with the hosts denied in the second minute by a great Kasper Schmeichel save when he tipped a Keith Treacy shot into the crossbar.
The action quickly switched to the other end and Paynter, in for the rested Luciano Becchio, miskicked when well placed. Jonny Howson then lifted a shot over after a good run.
Leeds lost centre-back Leigh Bromby for a spell as he received treatment for a head injury and while he was off Schmeichel had to come to his side’s rescue again with a fine save to deny Eddie Johnson.
The game eventually settled into a tighter affair than the previous meeting, although Max Gradel was looking dangerous for United and forced home keeper Andy Lonergan to make two saves.
Leeds broke the deadlock on 29 minutes when Robert Snodgrass’s run and pass set up Kilkenny and the Australian midfielder’s shot went in off the post.
Paynter missed another chance near the end of the half, but did finally get on the scoresheet 12 minutes into the second period with a fine strike past Lonergan.
Preston made a fight of it when they pulled a goal back six minutes later, striker Iain Hume beating Schmeichel with a shot from distance.
However, it was the visitors who came closest to another goal when Paynter took advantage of a mix-up in the Preston defence only to see his shot bounce back off the post.
The hosts had one late chance when Nathan Ellington sent a header goalwards only for Schmeichel for to make the save that confirmed the three points were coming back over the Pennines.
There was another first for Leeds seven minutes from time when Barry Bannan, signed on loan from Aston Villa on Monday, made his debut as a substitute for Kilkenny.
Preston North End 1
Leeds United 2
(Kilkenny 29, Paynter 57)
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Preston: Lonergan, Morgan, St Ledger, Ashbee, Gardner (Parry 85), Johnson, Jones, Carter, Treacy, Hume, Brown (Ellington 62).
Leeds: Schmeichel, Lichaj, Bromby, O’Brien, McCartney, Snodgrass (Naylor 86), Kilkenny (Bannan 83), Howson, Johnson, Gradel, Paynter (Becchio 75).
Referee: R Shoebridge.