Cardiff goalkeeper Neil Etheridge is beaten by Josh Harrop’s free-kick for Preston North End

Cardiff City lost their unbeaten record and their place at the top of the Championship as Preston North End dominated them at Deepdale.

Josh Harrop set the Lilywhites on their way with a fine free-kick, scoring his first goal since his summer move from Manchester United.

Sean Maguire doubled the lead after the break, firing in from a tight angle.

Alan Browne added an eye-catching third, as he lobbed Cardiff goalkeeper Neil Etheridge from the centre circle.

Leeds United’s win against Birmingham sees them lead the Championship by a point from Cardiff, while Preston rise to fifth.

Preston were without midfield duo Ben Pearson and Daniel Johnson, but hardly appeared below strength as they snapped into the league leaders.

Jordan Hugill was first to test Cardiff keeper Etheridge, with Maguire also denied from the rebound by Joe Bennett’s timely challenge.

Cardiff seemed unsettled by a physical Preston side, but nearly snatched a lead against the run of play when Joe Ralls’ shot was deflected just wide of the post.

Cardiff City’s Sean Morrison queries a decision by referee Oliver Langford

But with the first half ticking down, Preston were awarded a free-kick 25 yards from goal and Harrop stepped up to curl into the corner.

Maguire could have doubled the home side’s lead before the break but his header was straight at Etheridge.

Preston continued to fashion good openings after half-time and Darnell Fisher should have done better after being put through by Tom Barkhuizen.

The Cardiff goal continued to come under threat as first Paul Huntington and then Barkhuizen flashed headers just wide.

Cardiff boss Neil Warnock had seen enough and made an early double change, with Lee Tomlin and Liam Feeney replacing Loic Damour and Junior Hoilett.

But the fresh legs made little difference as Preston doubled their lead, with Barkhuizen teeing up Maguire to score from a tight position.

Cardiff huffed and puffed but were unable to find a way through against a defence that has only conceded two league goals so far this campaign.

Browne underlined Preston’s dominance with a third goal, the Republic of Ireland midfielder catching Etheridge off his line with a long-range lob.

The scoreline mirrored the Bluebirds’ result at Deepdale almost exactly a year ago, when they suffered the same fate under former manager Paul Trollope.

Preston manager Alex Neil:

“That was a really pleasing win and it was no more than we deserved.

“I thought we were the better side throughout the match; created the most chances against a team that hasn’t lost all year and to be honest, are a good team.

“We kept them extremely quiet and I thought we did really well. We had chances prior to scoring the goals – it’s not like we didn’t have opportunities and we were fortunate.”

Cardiff manager Neil Warnock told BBC Radio Wales:

“It’s no excuse because the goals were terrible, but we had eight or nine lads who were not at the game today.

“If we hadn’t been undefeated I would have made three or four changes for the game… I take a bit of blame because when I looked at them this morning in training they were a little bit jaded.

“They get in your faces here and I’m looking forward to playing them at our place if I’m honest, I took a lot of stick on the bench today.”

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