A STUNNING volley from Curtis Davies sealed all three points for Hull City on an afternoon in which Steve Bruce’s men were steady rather than spectacular.
The Tigers undoubtedly deserved a victory that Abel Hernandez had set the Yorkshire side on the way to with a fortuitous first half opener.
But, as with the home wins over Fulham and Huddersfield Town, City were far from their convincing best in a game that only flickered into life against Simon Grayson’s Preston North End.
Nevertheless, it was enough to take Hull up to second place as the Championship enters the first international break - a welcome fillip following relegation last May.
City’s opening goal may have been fortunate in the extreme but there was no denying that the hosts deserved to lead at the break.
Hernandez made the breakthrough eight minutes before half-time but knew little about it with the ball cannoning off him as Neil Kilkenny attempted to clear the danger after Sam Clucas’ corner had reached the back post.
The pressure had been mounting on the visitors for the best part of 20 minutes thanks to City’s dominance in central midfield.
Jordan Pickford had almost presented Hull with a goal on 15 minutes when he fumbled an Ahmed Elmohamady cross before reclaiming just ahead of Chuba Akpom.
The one-time Bradford City loanee was also fortunate to get away with handing possession to Hernandez 25 yards from goal when recklessly racing from his area, the Uruguayan only able to fluff his shot and North End cleared.
It was a let-off for Simon Grayson’s men who had further cause to be thankful for Hernandez’s profligacy in front of goal just before the interval.
After Michael Dawson’s shot had been deflected into his path, the onside forward somehow managed to fire straight at Pickford despite the goalkeeper having been on the ground at the time.
It was an awful miss and one that City supporters must have spent the half-time break hoping would not come back to haunt their side.
That could well have been the case, had Alan Browne capitalised on a wonderful cross from the right wing that he somehow headed over when it seemed easier to score.
Joe Garner also brought a decent save from Allan McGregor.
For Hull, Shaun Maloney came closest to adding a second when he almost latched on to a wretched back pass from Bailey Wright only for goalkeeper Pickford to race from his line and clear.
Otherwise, Andrew Robertson shot well wide and a Hernandez prod towards goal that was blocked after Pickford had flapped at a Clucas corner before the points were sealed seven minutes from time.
Another flag-kick from Clucas created the opening that Davies took with relish via an unstoppable volley that brought his first goal since the 2014 FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal.
Hull manager Steve Bruce said after the match that he will look to Hernandez to fill the gap left by the imminent departure of fellow striker Nikica Jelavic.
Bruce said: “Abel has scored two in a week. One came off his backside from a yard and the other was a tap-in from a yard.
“You can see he’s handling life better and getting used to it. I’m still convinced we’ve got a very good player on our hands.”
Bruce said he had left Jelavic out with two clubs showing an interest in taking him away from Hull, but refused to name the clubs when asked.
“We had a bid late (on Friday night),” he said. “Two clubs have shown their hand. We will see what happens over the next 24 to 48 hours, but come Tuesday I would expect Jelavic to be gone.”
Bruce also praised Davies and defensive partner Michael Dawson.
“I thought my two centre-halves today were terrific, absolutely terrific,” he said.
Preston manager Simon Grayson was disappointed but thought his team had caused Hull problems, particularly early on.
He said: “Michael Dawson is man of the match so it tells you they have been tested.
“Dawson and Davies have played in the Premier League for many years so you can see how good their players are.”
Grayson is keeping his fingers crossed striker Jermaine Beckford, who missed the game with a knee injury suffered in pre-season, does not need an operation.
“He will have to see a surgeon and then we will know more after that,” he said.
Of a possible move in the transfer window to replace Beckford, he added: “We know where we need to strengthen, so we will see if we can do anything.”