Preston North End produced a fine performance to beat Norwich City at Deepdale and knock them off the top of the Championship.
Goals from Ben Davies, Paul Gallagher (penalty) and Sean Maguire delivered the victory, Teemu Pukki grabbing a stoppage-time consolation for the visitors who had arrived in Lancashire unbeaten in six matches and top of the table.
The first-half display was as good as it has been for a long time, North End moving the ball with speed and style to constantly worry their visitors.
Just 100 seconds were on the clock when Davies met a Gallagher free-kick to head home the opener, that the centre-back’s first goal of the season.
Gallagher doubled the advantage from the penalty spot after Darnell Fisher had been fouled in the box.
A second spot kick of the night, this time at the other, saw Declan Rudd produce a fine save to parry Marco Stiepermann’s effort.
North End had to dig in more in the second half to protect their lead, Rudd making three good saves against his former club to keep the lead comfortable.
Victory was effectively sealed in the 69th minute when Maguire shot home after an Alan Browne’s volley had bounced back off the bar.
The one blot was Pukki’s late goal for the visitors but it was only a thin layer of gloss for the East Anglian outfit.
This was Alex Neil’s first win in four games over the club he managed for 26 months and guided into the Premier League.
An unchanged North End side were straight out of the blocks, scoring with one minute and 40 seconds played.
Fisher was fouled on the right-wing, earning a free-kick close to the touchline.
Gallagher lifted the set piece into the box where Davies rose above a defender to steer a header into the net from eight yards.
It certainly set the tone for the rest of the first half, PNE on top of their game from then on and Gallagher sent a shot skimming into the side-netting from the left hand side of the penalty area.
Norwich threatened for the first time when Pukki got past Davies on the edge of the box and hit a low angled shot which Rudd saved with his outstretched right foot.
The phrase ‘rattled the woodwork’ is often used in football but it was very appropriate when Brad Potts went close for PNE in the 19th minute.
A fine run from Tom Barkhuizen took him out of his own half to the outskirts of the Norwich box where he laid the ball back into the path of Potts.
The midfielder let fly with a right-foot shot which smacked against the bar and left the frame of the goal shaking for some moments afterwards.
North End’s doubled their lead in the 24th minute, referee Geoff Eltringham pointing to the spot after Fisher had been tripped by Emiliano Buendia.
Gallagher took it, doing his usual routine of turning his back on the ball, walking to the edge of the box before spinning round sharply and running up to the spot.
Tim Krul got something on the penalty but wasn’t able to prevent it going in.
Mr Eltringham pointed to the spot again in the 33rd minute, this time at the other end..
Onel Hernadez went to ground from Ben Pearson’s challenge, the referee giving it a few seconds thought before giving the penalty.
Stiepermann stepped up and hit the spot kick well enough but Rudd dived to his right and parried it away – that his third penalty save of the season.
The second half started at a similar pace to how the first had been played, Stiepermann’s shot dealt with routinely by Rudd.
Maguire got on the end of a Gallagher free-kick and sent a header across goal and wide, while Rudd did well at the other end to get down low and push a Pukki shot behind after the Finland international had got behind PNE’s back four.
Rudd made two saves in the space of as many minutes to keep Norwich at bay, the visitors having built up a good head of steam as the second half progressed.
The keeper blocked Hernandez’s shot with his legs which was impressive enough but not as good as his one to tip over Ben Godfrey’s header at the far post after the Norwich centre-half had got on the end of a corner.
Those saves proved invaluable when almost out of nothing, Preston scored a third in the 69th minute.
When the ball fell to Browne 30 yards out, he unleashed a thunderous shot on the half-volley which flew past Krul and bounced against the bar.
It fell to Maguire 15 yards out who chested down before firing a low shot into the net.
The Irishman pointed to his eyebrows during the celebrations, a nod to the banter he got on social media when his well groomed eyebrows went viral during the recent game against Derby.
North End almost added a fourth in the 84th minute, substitute Lukas Nmecha displaying an array of skills to get clear down the left channel and cut the ball back for Potts who ran on to it but fired the wrong side of the near post.
Norwich’s consolation goal came more than two minutes into stoppage-time, Pukki meeting the ball at the far post and firing it back across Rudd.
PNE: Rudd, Fisher, Storey, Davies, Hughes, Pearson, Gallagher (Johnson 61), Potts, Browne, Barkhuizen (Nmecha 67), Maguire (Stockley 77). Subs (not used): Earl, Clarke, Ledson, Crowe.
Norwich: Krul, Aarons, Zimmermann, Godfrey, Lewis, Trybull (Rhodes 46), Tettey, Buendia, Stiepermann (McLean 73), Hernandez (Passlack 84), Pukki. Subs (not used): Passlack, Hanley, Srbeny, Cantwell, McGovern.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham (Tyne and Wear)
Attendance: 11,280 (880 away)