Sheffield United returned to winning ways after a sensational second-half that saw the Blades squander a 2-0 lead to struggling Preston.
United found themselves 2-0 up thanks to goals from Billy Sharp and Chris Basham either side of half-time, but two goals in three minutes from Preston made it 2-2 with just seven minutes to go.
When all hopes of three points looked lost for the Blades, searching for their first win in three, David McGoldrick swept home to restore the lead and all three points with three minutes left.
It means United climb to fourth in the table, although they made hard work of it after briefly imploding before the late winner.
Preston, meanwhile, find themselves rock bottom of the league and winless in eight.
With Sheffield Hallam’s moving in weekend clashing with this Championship fixture Preston staff arrived just over an hour before kick-off, with the referee nowhere to be seen at the time the team-sheets were published.
The traffic outside the Lane was gridlocked, with the student accommodation located close to the stadium, and raised questions of why this game coincided with thousands of students starting their lives in Sheffield.
With Sheffield Wednesday also in the league, playing away at Aston Villa, it appeared strange that the fixtures weren’t switched to make it fair for United and Preston at the very least, let alone fans trying to get to the ground.
Nonetheless, kick-off remained at 3pm with Bramall Lane not even close to full, and United boss Chris Wilder made plenty of changes again. In came Enda Stevens, Billy Sharp, David McGoldrick and Kieron Freeman, replacing Leon Clarke, Marvin Johnson, Conor Washington and George Baldock.
Wilder recently disputed the Championship fixture scheduling which saw the visitors have an extra day’s rest following their 3-0 Tuesday defeat to Leeds, while United were forced to play out a 0-0 draw with Birmingham a day later.
The boss made five changes from the previous Saturday for that encounter, and brought in four of them back for this more than winnable tie based on Preston’s recent record.
While they flirted with the play-offs last season, and even ended United’s hopes of a spot with a 1-0 win at Bramall Lane at the end of April, the start to their season has been out of character.
Making five changes themselves, and giving a first league start of the season to keeper Chris Maxwell, showed their intentions of turning fortunes around.
But they were forced to set-up camp inside their own half for much of an uneventful opening 45-minutes, although for all their possession the Blades struggled to fashion chances.
When a break did come, though, United made sure they took it. After trying to force a way through the Blades were caught on the counter but as Henderson gathered the failed attempt, United went on a marauding attack of their own.
McGoldrick had plenty of work to do on the wing but managed to hold off his man excellently, squaring to Sharp who had the easiest of tap-ins for his fifth of the season after adjusting his feet well.
It was the goal they needed and, with ten minutes before half-time, gave them time to assert more dominance.
They looked an energised side after the goal: more confident, taking less touches, and working at a quicker pace that Preston struggled to cope with.
It took just six minutes of the second-half for United’s lead to be doubled after McGoldrick was clipped on the wing by Paul Huntington.
Up-stepped Oliver Norwood, then, to deliver a set-piece that was glanced in by Chris Basham, his header nestling into the far corner.
In each of their last seven matches Preston have conceded two or more goals, a statistic that will need to improve, and quickly, if they are to pull themselves away from their current scrap in the bottom three.
United fizzled out somewhat during the second-half but, with their job done, the clean-sheet was the target, and Dean Henderson did well to stop Tom Clarke’s header from creeping in.
The Blades were in for a nervy ten minutes when Callum Robinson, the player most likely to make a difference in the match, swept home from close-range after meeting Darnell Fisher’s cross.
What was a comfortable score-line suddenly looked anything but and substitute Daniel Johnson stunned Bramall Lane as his deflected effort from eight yards found the back of the net.
United were now hanging on for a point, let alone a win, but as Enda Stevens broke down the wing it looked as if the Blades may have a chance for redemption.
It was a chance they took as Stevens squared to McGoldrick who opened his body up to slot home and restore the lead.
It was a much harder afternoon for the Blades than it should’ve been but the Blades have no time to dwell as they now move their attention to next Saturday’s away trip to Millwall.
There will no doubt be some questions asked in the dressing room, though, as to how the 2-0 goal lead fell from their grasp.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Freeman, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens; Duffy (Clarke, 85’); Sharp (C) (Johnson, 74’), McGoldrick (Stearman, 90+1’). Subs not used: Lundstram, Woodburn, Washington, Moore.
Preston North End: Maxwell, Fisher, Clarke, Davies, Robinson, Browne, Gallagher (Johnson, 62’), Hughes, Ledson (Harrop, 89’), Huntington, Barkhuizen (Barker, 71’). Subs not used: Rudd, Earl, Moult, Burke.
Referee: Scott Duncan
Bookings: Sheffield United: Norwood (62’)
Preston North End: Huntington (51’)
Scorers: Sheffield United: Billy Sharp (36’), Chris Basham (51’), David McGoldrick (87′)
Preston North End: Callum Robinson (80’), Daniel Johnson (83’)
HT Score: Sheffield United 1-0 PNE
FT Score: Sheffield United 3-2 PNE
Man of the Match: David McGoldrick (Sheffield United)