Cardiff City leapfrogged Preston North End to move into the Championship play-off places with a 3-1 win at Deepdale.

Substitute Nathaniel Mendez-Laing capped a fine team move to put the Bluebirds 2-1 up on 81 minutes, before Robert Glatzel made the win safe in stoppage time with a deflected finish.

Cardiff took the lead when Joe Ralls rose to head home Dion Sanderson’s cross midway through the second half.

Daniel Johnson’s 12th goal this season levelled the game four minutes later.

Cardiff move to sixth in the Championship, three points above Preston who sink to seventh and out of the play-off places.

Neil Harris’ men deserved what was a hard-fought victory thanks to some decisive counter-attacks in an excellent second-half display.

It was the hosts who started the contest with a good tempo, happy to let Cardiff dominate possession and ready to tear at the Welsh side on the counter-attack.

They created a decent opening in just the second minute after smart work from Jayden Stockley allowed Tom Barkhuizen to shoot, but he dragged his effort wide.

Preston were unlucky four minutes later when Scott Sinclair wriggled free in the Cardiff penalty area and was clipped by Will Vaulks, with the referee waving away penalty claims despite replays showing a clear touch on the attacker.

The Bluebirds, who soaked up so much pressure in last week’s 2-0 win over title contenders Leeds United, took a while to get going and their first good attempt did not arrive until 28 minutes, when Junior Hoilett lashed wide from just inside the area after the ball had fallen kindly.

They also came close on the stroke of half-time when Sean Morrison headed over from a corner, but Sinclair and Barkhuizen in particular were ensuring Cardiff could never switch off at the back.

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Preston had the best chance in the opening exchanges of the second half when Sinclair’s deceptive effort from 25 yards almost found the corner of the net, with Alex Smithies forced to make a smart, fingertip stop.

However, it was the visitors who were growing into the contest and exerting more pressure, and with 21 minutes remaining they found the breakthrough when Wolves loanee Sanderson swung in a teasing cross that Ralls headed home at the back post.

It was a terrific leap from Ralls who climbed above Darnell Fisher too easily, from a Preston perspective.

Cardiff might have made it 2-0 four minutes later, but Hoilett slammed wide after more good approach play.

However, the hosts levelled seconds later when Johnson produced a composed finish after substitute Sean Maguire drove forward and Alan Browne’s shot was blocked by Morrison, with the rebound falling straight to the Preston forward.

Cardiff went back in front thanks to a lovely team move with nine minutes remaining, as a delightful touch by substitute Lee Tomlin freed Mendez-Laing, who finished emphatically.

Composed finishing was the key to this win as David Nugent blazed over with a huge chance to level, before Cardiff-born Preston defender Andrew Hughes headed at Smithies as the hosts looked to respond.

Another Cardiff substitute, Glatzel, made the win safe in injury time as the rain lashed down, with his effort on the counter taking a deflection and wrong-footing Declan Rudd in the Preston goal.

The goals by Cardiff’s two substitutes took the Bluebirds’ tally for the season to 15 goals off the bench, the most in the Championship.
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