Ref Welch makes Championship history as Preston beat Birmingham
Three pitch invaders briefly halted the game as away-day specialists Preston inflicted a fifth straight league defeat on Birmingham in a 2-1 win at St Andrew’s that saw referee Rebecca Welch make history.
In the first Championship game to be refereed in full by a female official, first league goals of the season from Ryan Ledson and captain Alan Browne in the opening 15 minutes won it for Ryan Lowe’s side.
Substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz made it a nervy finish when he reduced the arrears late on, but North End earned their eighth win on their travels – a record equalled only by second-placed Sheffield United in the division.
But before then, the match was temporarily brought to a standstill when three Birmingham fans ran onto the pitch in the 77th minute to protest against the club’s board.
Welch, 39, was the first woman appointed to referee a men’s Championship match, with Amy Fearn being the first female to referee in the division in 2010 when she stepped in as an injury replacement for the final 20 minutes of a match between Coventry and Nottingham Forest.
Last year, Welch became the first woman to referee an FA Cup third-round tie when Birmingham lost 1-0 to Plymouth at the same venue.
Preston moved into a commanding lead early on as they punished some poor home defending.
Midfielder Ledson drove home a loose ball from the edge of the box after Robbie Brady’s cross had been headed away unconvincingly by Kevin Long then missed by Hannibal Mejbri in the 10th minute. It was the 25-year-old’s first League goal since April 2021.
North End doubled their lead five minutes later when midfielder Browne headed home Brady’s near-post corner from close range.
Blues were at sixes and sevens defensively and Ben Woodburn’s shot was deflected just wide as Preston pushed for a third goal.
With the visitors exerting such authority, Blues did not reappear as an attacking force until the 26th minute when Maxime Colin’s cross was met by a firm header from Scott Hogan which flew over.
Preston returned to the attack through the dangerous Woodburn, who surged down the right before unleashing a drive that was smothered by goalkeeper John Ruddy at his near post.
Following the restart, Blues looked to get a foothold back in the game.
A cross-field pass from Mejbri saw Troy Deeney head the ball back into the danger area, but instead of shooting first time Hogan opted to take a touch and was crowded out by Browne and a defender, who collided in the process.
Blues head coach John Eustace made a triple substitution in the 63rd minute in a bid to get his side back into the game. On came George Friend, Juninho Bacuna and Jutkiewicz for Long, Mejbri and Tahith Chong.
But it initially made little initial difference as the hosts struggled to break down a determined Preston rearguard.
Jutkiewicz headed home in the 83rd minute, meeting Colin’s cross to quieten the protesters and give Blues hope, but it was too little, too late.