Preston North End 3, Cardiff City 0
Championship leaders Cardiff City lost their unbeaten Championship and were toppled from top spot by Preston North End at Deepdale.
Leeds United, now the only unbeaten team in the second tier of English football, are now in first place.
The Bluebirds were guilty of producing a disastrous team performance. They were second best at times at the back, in midfield and attack.
“Every player lost their personal battle at Preston,” said BBC commentator Kevin Ratcliffe. “Cardiff just didn’t seem to have their usual togetherness.”
Manager Neil Warnock named an unchanged starting line-up from the 1-1 draw at Fulham, but his team lacked spark, spirit and character. This was the third game in a row Warnock has used the same 11 and perhaps there is a need to freshen things up.
It was a dismal showing for the 350 Cardiff fans who made the long trip to Lancashire.
The first league defeat was always going to come and the key now is that City bounce back strongly when Sheffield Wednesday come to South Wales on Saturday.
Cardiff were up against it during the first half. Preston took the game to their visitors and played with an aggression which rattled the Bluebirds.
Warnock’s men were outbattled for the first time this season. They were second best during the first half, improved when they came out after the break, but Preston were in control.
The performance of goalkeeper Neil Etheridge again left question marks, while Kenneth Zohore again struggled to find the form which made him a multi-million pound for Premier League Brighton.
There has been a worrying loss of form by the Danish striker over the last two matches. He has only scored one goal this season and is under pressure with Danny Ward keep to earn the starting place.
Cardiff, playing in lime green kit, have established a reputation as a team who play with a high tempo and give everything in the cause, but they failed to find that energy and competitive edge at Preston.
Josh Harrop fired Preston ahead after 38 minutes, netting from a free-kick, and Cardiff were in trouble from that moment.
Warnock made a double substitution just after the hour, sending on Lee Tomlin for Loic Damour and Liam Feeney for Junior Hoilett.
He had Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Feeney raiding from wide areas, while Tomlin, playing alongside Aaron Gunnarsson and Joe Ralls through the middle, was working to support Zohore.
Sean Maguire made it 2-0 when he squeezed home from the right-hand side of the six yard box from a Tom Barkhuizen pass before Alan Browne added the third.
A Preston forward looked five yards beyond the final defender when a long ball forward ran through to goalkeeper Etheridge, who tried to clear upfield as the home player closed him down.
Etheridge sliced his kick and Alan Browne launched the ball back towards the Cardiff goal from halfway. The keeper tried to get back, flung himself and got a touch on the ball, but Browne’s shot went in after 78 minutes.
Cardiff made their third substitution when Ward replaced Zohore 10 minutes from the end.
By then the Bluebirds were heading towards a convincing defeat and Preston were in complete control.
Warnock is certain to let his players know exactly how he feels about this below par display and there could well be changes for Saturday’s home clash with Sheffield Wednesday.
Feeney, Ward, Tomlin, Craig Bryson and more will be pressing for a starting place against the Owls.
Preston North End: Maxwell, Fisher (Woods 81), Huntington, Davies, Earl, Browne (Gallagher 87), Welsh, Maguire (Horgan 87), Harrop, Barkhuizen, Hugill. Subs not used: Spurr, Mavididi, Hudson, Robinson.
Cardiff City: Etheridge, Peltier, Morrison (capt), Bamba, Bennett, Gunnarsson, Ralls, Mendez-Laing, Damour (Tomlin 63), Hoilett (Feeney 63), Zohore (Ward 80). Subs not used: Manga, Richards, Ward, Bryson, Murphy.
Referee: Oliver Langford.