Preston manager Alex Neil hailed Sean Maguire as a ‘special player’ who can reach double figures this season after his goal gave them a 1-0 win at Birmingham.
The Irish forward scored the only goal in the 23rd minute to help move North End up to third in the Sky Bet Championship and end a run of seven away outings in the league without a win.
It was their first away victory since March and shattered City’s seven-match unbeaten record at St Andrew’s.
Neil was delighted with the contribution of Maguire, who has scored three goals this season and has netted in the last two games.
The boss explained: “He’s a special player at this level.
“It’s always nice when you’ve got someone in your team who can produce something from nothing. It’s such an ace to have up your sleeve.
“I’ve always thought Sean is a double-figures striker at this level. He’s not a wide player, he’s more of an inside forward who plays in between the lines and does it really well.”
Neil believes Maguire could also have won his team two penalties.
He continued: “I think he should have had at least one penalty – you can’t just barge someone from the back.
“I spoke to the referee and he said he should have been stronger, but I’m not sure how much stronger he could be!
“In the second half, he shifted the ball and the lad caught his foot – if you don’t kick the ball but kick the man, it’s a penalty.”
The only goal came when Maguire tapped home after Paul Gallagher’s low curling free-kick hit the inside of the post. Birmingham midfielder David Davis conceded the set-piece after upending Maguire following a surging run.
The home side can count themselves unlucky not to claim something from the game, however.
They appealed strongly for a penalty when Maxime Colin’s cross appeared to strike the hand of Ben Davies, and had an effort from substitute Alvaro Gimenez controversially ruled out for offside 11 minutes from time.
Preston had two penalty shouts, first when defender Harlee Dean appeared to shove Maguire in the back, causing him to fall over.
In the second half, Maguire was caught by a stray foot as he ran through in the box – but referee Stephen Martin waved play on for both incidents.
Birmingham’s big penalty appeal came in the 56th minute. A cross from right back Colin appeared to strike the hand of centre-back Davies in what looked like a ‘hand to ball’ movement.
The home side had the ball in the net in the 79th minute, only for Gimenez’s tap-in from Lukas Jutkiewicz’s cross to be ruled out for a very close offside call.
Their caretaker head coach Pep Clotet had no complaints at the two major decisions that went against his team.
For the disallowed effort he said: “I was very surprised he called it because when I saw it, I had a lot of doubts – it was very difficult to see even from so many difficult angles.
“From some angles I don’t think it’s offside, from some I do, so fair play to the linesman if he saw it. I don’t think that affected the game.”
Regarding the penalty appeal, he added: “The ref thought the hand was there but it is normal to have a hand there, so he gave us a corner, fair enough.”