Professional wrestler Wade Barrett was in the crowd at the Banks’s on Saturday.
And the Preston-born star went home happy as his beloved Lilywhites dished out the type of beating he would be proud of.
If this had been one his fights in the WWE, it would have been stopped just past the hour mark when former Saddler Lee Holmes made it 3-0.
But then those fights are usually choreographed to at least make it a contest – here Simon Grayson’s team were better than the sorry Saddlers in every department.
The hosts were out-thought, out-fought and out-witted as they collapsed to a first home league defeat since Swindon Town’s visit last November.
Dean Smith was proud of his players after their battling performance in the Capital One Cup against Stoke City last Wednesday, but there was nothing to cheer here.
When they sit down to look at the DVD and assess where things went wrong, it will not make happy viewing.
Three goals conceded, all thoroughly avoidable, allowed the impressive visitors to stroll away with the points but the scoreline did not flatter them.
Keeper Richard O’Donnell will not be happy with the way he allowed Joel Byrom’s free-kick to creep in at the far post after it had evaded everybody as Preston grabbed a deserved lead on the half-hour.
Young left-back Mal Benning, whose struggles epitomised the hosts’ problems, was then found wanting as Chris Humphreys and Holmes added the second and third in three second-half minutes to end the game as a contest.
Smith admitted he had not seen this coming.
The Saddlers boss and his players make a point of not getting carried away when they win games so there should be no prolonged wailing or gnashing of teeth at this defeat, no matter how poor the performance.
The phrase ‘bad day at the office’ was the one being used and it must be hoped this display was just that – an unfortunate one-off. Lessons will need to be learned.
But the concern must be that the seeds of this loss were evident in the draw with Notts County and the defeat at Brentford last weekend.
There is a growing sense that teams have worked out how to combat Saddlers’ passing style.
Preston, like County and the Bees, pressed and closed down the hosts, leaving space at a premium. The tactic worked so successfully that the number of Saddlers moves could be counted on one hand and Declan Rudd became the latest in a worrying line of opposition keepers to be rarely tested.
Moves constantly broke down through mis-placed passes and at times it seemed Preston simply wanted it more, while up front Milan Lalkovic and Craig Westcarr were almost anonymous barring one move in the first half which saw the latter shoot horribly wide.
Smith admitted he had probably blundered in team selection and it was perplexing to say the least to see Romaine Sawyers and Nicky Featherstone, who both impressed at Stoke, dropped to the bench.
Both will surely now feature at Wolves tomorrow in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy as the Saddlers have an early opportunity to bounce back. Certainly another performance like this would have alarm bells ringing.
Andy Taylor is also odds-on to start. Smith’s decision to rest the left-back may have been made with the best intentions, but it proved a fatal one as Benning endured by far the worst day of his young professional career.
The 19-year-old has stood in well for Taylor and it must be hoped his confidence is not too badly damaged by this experience. His distress at the error for the third goal was there for all to see and the ironic cheers which greeted his substitution soon after distasteful.
Preston were on top from the word go and Saddlers keeper O’Donnell was forced to make a smart save from a deflected Humphreys shot, while Stuart Beavon glanced a header just wide and the visitors forced a number of corners.
Holmes then beat the offside trap to race clear but saw his shot deflected wide by James Chambers, who had done brilliantly to recover and catch the midfielder. Briefly the Saddlers looked like they might get a foothold in the game and Westcarr shot wide following a nice move.
But after standing up to the visitors’ physicality for the opening half-hour, they then gifted them the opener. Benning brought down Beavon out on the right and, when Byrom floated in the free-kick, it was missed by everybody and ended up nestled in the far bottom corner.
Kevin Davies, who gave home skipper Andy Butler a torrid time, should have doubled the lead moments after the second half began but headed over from a Humphreys cross after being left in acres of space.
The former Bolton man was then inches away from converting a low Holmes cross but any thoughts North End might pay for their profligacy were put to bed with two goals in three minutes.
First Benning allowed Humphreys to cut in from the right and beat O’Donnell with a drive which took a slight deflection up and over the keeper.
But worse was to follow when the left-back attempted to clear a Humphreys cross but totally mis-kicked, the ball rolling to Holmes who coolly slotted home.
Sawyers, Featherstone and Taylor were all introduced as the Saddlers looked for a way back but it never came, though the latter did at least force Rudd into action with a volley.
The groans which greeted the announcement of five minutes stoppage time just about summed up the home side’s day – a bad one indeed.