Carlisle United overcame their injury jinx to take a very impressive draw at Deepdale ... but it could and probably should have been all three points following what was a very good performance form a hard-working side.
The home side struggled to make any clear-cut chances as the Cumbrians won the midfield battle and that contributed to the feeling of devastation when substitute Graham Cummins denied the visitors their first clean sheet in eleven outings with a precise headed finish deep into injury time.
Loan striker Joe Garner provided the cutting edge for United as he claimed his sixth goal from his eleven-game loan spell with a cool penalty-spot finish to edge his side into the lead during a frenetic first half.
But it was shock for the players and fans when the Lilywhite sucker punch robbed them of their derby-day victory.
“We’re going through a tough time at the moment,” manager Greg Abbott said.
“We seem to pick up an injury to a key player with every game we play but we’re not going to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves. We had a good win on Saturday and we needed to follow that up with another performance in this one.
"This is an important game for our fans and we owed them one like that. We’ve worked hard and got them a result and they make their journey home with smiles on their faces, as do we.
"Having said that, we’re obviously devastated that it wasn’t three points because we felt we’d done more than enough to win the game.”
Defender Danny Livesey was the latest to hit the sidelines as a broken bone in the hand looks set to rule him out for up to three weeks. This latest Cumbrian set-back prompted another raid on the Old Trafford youth locker with 19-year-old centre back Sean McGinty joining on a month-long loan ahead of the registration deadline.
The closest either side came to scoring in a tense opening half hour period, which was marked by a touching sixth minute round of applause for a fan who had been murdered in America last year, was an early inswinging corner from Laird. The Carlisle defence ignored it leaving Adam Collin to claw it off the line with the Lilywhites claiming a goal.
Home shots were blocked at source with the visitors picking and choosing their moments to attack, and Mike Edwards did well to recover after a spin from Beavon put him in sight of the target. The big defender slid in to frustrate the nippy attacker.
A training ground free kick routine involving McGovern and Murphy left Noble with a difficult chance but he was off balance and he ballooned his effort into the stands.
Youngster Brad Potts then connected with a fierce shot but Simonsen saw it early and he plucked it out of the air.
The deadlock was broken when Preston got themselves in a real mix-up at the back. Simonsen had to race off his line to beat Garner to the ball but the striker went down in a heap as his heel was clipped. The on-loan Watford man made it six goals in eleven games as he dusted himself off to send the hapless keeper the wrong way.
Carlisle stayed on the front-foot and Berrett was unlucky to see a goal-bound effort bounce back off Huntington as Simonsen appeared to lose his footing.
Brad Potts rose highest to win a delivery from McGovern early in the second half but his header deflected behind for a corner even though Keane had no idea he'd just stopped another decent attempt.
Things remained tight until deep into the second half when substitute Akpo Sodje almost scored with his first touch of the game. Wroe delivered a fierce free kick to the back stick and the big forward somehow missed the target as he dived to head it from just three yards out.
Beavon then ran from deep to shoot as he skipped past three players but he rushed the shot and it skimmed over the bar.
Chantler and Garner combined to find a way through a packed midfield but the striker went for an early shot which lacked power and direction.
United looked dangerous on the counter as chances remained at a premium and another Garner shot from distance had Simonsen scrambling as it curled towards his bottom corner.
Liam Noble was all over the pitch and he popped up in the right place at the right time to stop Beavon in his tracks as he tried to take the fight to the visitors. The tackle was perfect and Murphy was able to complete the clearance.
Nicky Wroe brought the best of improvisation out of Collin when his shot skipped up off the surface in front of the already prostrate keeper. A readjustment and a swing of the arms deflected the ball over the bar.
And Chris Chantler typified the Cumbrian resolve when he threw his body in the way of a Sodje thunderbolt. But United were undone with the last attack of the game when a spin and cross from Holmes found Cummins in space. He kept his eye on the ball and guided his header into the bottom corner despite a fingertip touch from Collin.
Preston - Cummins (90)
United - Garner (31 pen)
Preston - Robertson (43), Holmes (50), Huntington (59)
United - Garner (59)
Preston North End - Simonsen, Keane, Huntington, Robertson, Laird, Amoo (Sodje 59), Wroe, Byrom, Beavon, King (Cummins 78), Wright (Holmes 46). Subs - Stuckmann, Hayhurst, Procter, Beardsley.
Carlisle United - Collin, Simek, Edwards, Murphy, Chantler, Potts, Noble, Berrett, McGovern, Garner, Higginbotham. Subs - Gillespie, Welsh, Cadamarteri, Todd, Symington, McGinty, Bugno.
Referee - Mr Richard Clark
Attendance - 9,249 (941 away fans)