It's the oldest clich in football but this was a truly a game of two halves.

A champagne performance from Pompey in a sparkling first half delighted an expectant, near capacity Fratton Park crowd, but the bubbly went decidedly flat in the second half and the Blues had to hang on nervously for a 3-2 win, which stretched their lead to seven points at the top of the table.

Pompey's Matthew Taylor, scorer of what turned out to be the winning goal, said: "It was not a characteristic Pompey performance.

"We went in two ahead at half-time and I suppose we thought we had it won. In the second half we had to graft and show a great deal of resilience.

"Give credit to Preston, though, they came out in the second half with all guns firing and made things very difficult for us.

"Preston have not lost too many games and you can see why after their performance tonight."

The kick-off was delayed for 15 minutes to allow fans to get to the ground through a city gridlocked by an eight-car pile-up.

Many were still finding their seats when Preston shocked everybody by taking the lead on 11 minutes. Richard Cresswell followed up to score from close in after keeper Shaka Hislop had done well to parry a deflected shot from Graham Alexander.

But that was the signal for the champagne football to flow from Pompey and two goals in two minutes turned the game on its head. A rampant Pompey were rewarded on 20 minutes when a low, raking cross from the marauding Taylor was expertly turned in by home debutant Steve Stone.

A minute later Vincent Pericard was bundled over in the box by Edwards and Paul Merson converted the spot-kick with a hard, low shot past Lucas's right hand.

The goal was greeted by chants of 'There's only one Graham Taylor' from the Pompey fans as acknowledgement of the outstanding contributions of ex-Villa stars Merson and Stone.

Six minutes from half-time came the decider. Another neat move carved open the North End defence and Taylor latched on to an astute pass from Stone and coolly lobbed the oncoming Preston 'keeper David Lucas.

The game was thrown wide open immediately after the restart, and the scene set for a tense foul-strewn second half, when referee Armstrong pointed to the penalty spot. defender Paul Ritchie was judged to have brought down Preston midfielder Mark Rankine and Graham Alexander duly scored from the spot.

Ritchie said: "It was definitely not a penalty and the TV replay confirms that. Mark Rankine has dived and I have not even touched him. The referee has just confirmed to me that he got it wrong. That changed the game really, but, as it happens, not the result."

A Preston side, who competed furiously to try and spoil the party, poured forward in the second half and, in defence, Pompey's De Zeeuw, Ritchie and Festa, who had returned in place of Primus, were tested as never before at home this season.

That Hislop was rarely tested is a measure of their command. But seeing Pompey with their backs to the wall was not what the hushed Fratton Park fans had expected to see after the first-half feastings.

Pompey: Hislop, De Zeeuw, Ritchie, Festa, Taylor, Diabate, Quashie, Stone, Merson, Pericard (Sub: Harper), Todorov (Sub: O'Neil). Unused Subs: Kawaguchi, Burchill, Primus.