CONSIDERING it was St Patrick's Day, the luck of the Irish was conspicuous by its absence.

Dublin teenager Chris McCann had a chance headed off the line just under an hour, after Northern Ireland star Kyle Lafferty had been denied by a brilliant Andy Longeran save inside the first three minutes.

It was the second time in as many games that the Clarets had failed to make the most of a third-minute chance. Ade Akinbiyi had squandered a great opportunity at Southend.

But Burnley hoped that they wouldn't be made to count the cost of Lonergan's early heroics as they aimed to end an almost four-month winless run at Deepdale.

As unlikely as that appeared to be on paper, with Preston still harbouring hopes of automatic promotion nevermind the play-offs, Burnley set a good early tempo.

And had Lonergan not clawed the ball away from the net and onto the post from Lafferty's bullet header, Burnley would not only have something to show for their early pressure, but a rare lead to fight for and hold on to.

As it was, David Nugent capped a week in which he was put on standby for England with a volley beyond Danny Coyne.

The Clarets goalkeeper was again largely untroubled, but was beaten a second time by unmarked substitute Patrick Agyemang in the second half, after Nugent had turned provider.

But after a 90-minute battle at Preston, arguably their hardest task of the afternoon was to follow as they could only wait for the results of the teams surrounding them in the lower echelons of the Championship to filter through.

There was good news from the Stadium of Light, where Hull lost 2-0 to Sunderland, then from the Ricoh Arena, where Barnsley were beaten 4-1 by Coventrty, while Luton lost 2-0 at home to Ipswich Town. Southend's 1-1 draw at home to Leeds was arguably the best result Burnley could have hoped for in the circumstances, although that reduced the gap between them and the drop zone to just two points. QPR's 3-1 home win over Leicester took them to within a point of the Clarets.

But Burnley, who still have two games in hand over most of their rivals and play six of their nine remaining games at Turf Moor, would prefer to have their destiny in their own hands.

Manager Steve Cotterill had made a number of changes to the starting line-up from Southend - some through choice, with Eric Djemba-Djemba replacing Joey Gudjonsson in central midfield, and some forced upon him following illness to Andy Gray, and injuries to John McGreal and Stephen Foster at Roots Hall.

That meant McCann was placed in the heart of defence for the first time since the win over Ipswich over four months ago, partnering Steven Caldwell.

With Gray missing, Lafferty made his first start since suspension for accumulated yellow cards last month.

And he was so close to having an instant impact when he met Wade Elliott's pinpoint free kick with a firm header, but Lonergan flung himself at the ball, pushed it onto the post and saw it go out of play.

Ade Akinbiyi was rewarded for his persistence in sprinting onto Elliott's ball over the top and winning a corner while Jon Harley fired high and wide from a short free kick.

In the meantime, Callum Davidson escaped a booking for a high tackle on Steve Jones, but McCann wasn't afforded the same treatment moments later when his name did go in the book for a midfield challenge to become the first of five yellow cards for the Clarets.

Akinbiyi again made good inroads down the right and was unlucky to be penalised while running shoulder-to-shoulder with Liam Chilvers and conceded a free kick.

Preston kept the ball in Burnley's half and, with Caldwell struggling with a shoulder injury he sustained after earlier falling awkwardly, he was unable to make a solid headed clearance when Matty Hill's throw-in was flicked back towards the dangerzone.

The connection Caldwell was able to make only fell as far as Chilvers 30 yards out, the midfielder knocked the ball back into the box for Brett Ormerod, and when the former Accrington Stanley striker chested it into strike partner Nugent's path, the England Under 21 international stabbed a volley into the ground and into the bottom left hand corner.

Burnley had enjoyed the better spells of possession, but Nugent had unlocked them within the blink of an eye.

Jones worked well down the left flank and turned his marker inside out before Lonergan made himself big to block his right-foot shot and deny an equaliser.

And that save set the tone for Preston to end the half strongly.

Davidson burst through the middle and, despite Danny Pugh screaming for a pass, chose to shoot from distance and wasted an opportunity.

Chris Sedgwick then set alarm bells ringing as he was allowed time and space to shoot from long range but it was comfortable for Coyne in the end. The Burnley stopper had to be more alert on the stroke of half-time as he tipped the ball over when Michael Duff flicked on Davidson's cross.

Preston maintained the momentum at the start of the second half and Nugent went close to a second as he stole in at the near post to meet Ormerod's cross but headed wide.

Given that he had been struggling with his shoulder in the first half, it was a surprise to see Caldwell emerge at half-time. But he lasted just two minutes before he was replaced by Graham Branch.

That switch forced Duff inside as Elliott was again pushed to right back, giving him the chance to exorcise some demons from that position just days after his weak header back to Coyne gifted Southend a late winner, while Lafferty plugged the gap that Elliott had left on the right wing as Branch partnered Akinbiyi up front.

Ten minutes after Branch's introduction the versatile veteran rattled the crossbar with a 20-yard right-foot volley that had Lonergan well beaten.

Preston countered and Burnley benefited from a huge let-off when an unmarked Matty Hill spooned Danny Pugh's corner over from just two yards out.

Burnley hit back through Jones, but his tricky run was halted when he was tripped by Graham Alexander, then McCann was denied by Sean St Ledger's header off the line that he steered round the post.

Moments later, as Akinbiyi was ready to receive the ball on the edge of the box, Lonergan charged out and punched the ball away from him.

Preston boosted their ammunition with the introduction of Patrick Agyemang but, undeterred, Burnley continued to press.

Lafferty got the better of Chilvers as he cut inside and got in the area. But, with a clear sight of goal, the Irishman went down cheaply in the box, the referee was unconvinced by such dramatics and Preston seized the chance to break and catch the Clarets cold.

Nugent raced down the left then made an angled run to goal, with Duff in close proximity. McCann and Djemba-Djemba got preoccupied by the former Bury striker, while Harley was marshalling Ormerod. But no-one had accounted for the run of Agyemang. Apart from Nugent, and his perfectly weight square ball was struck sweetly underneath Coyne for Agyemang's seventh of the season.

Burnley's midfield packed more of a punch when James O'Connor made way for John Spicer as he settled in well alongside Djemba-Djemba, who continually strove to get Burnley on the front foot.

The Aston Villa loanee almost pulled a goal back with five minutes to go as he recovered from a collision with Davidson to flash a free kick just over the bar from around 40 yards.

Tensions flared as the clock ticked down, with up to 20 players surrounding the referee for the second time in the game following a midfield challenge.

But it was only what you'd expect from a local derby where points meant so much.

They remained at Deepdale, but Cotterill said: "I don't think there's a lot more we could have done with our chances today.

"St Ledger headed one off the line. Whether that one was going or not, that was a bit nip and tuck for me from Chris McCann's header.

"The volley from Graham Branch was superb. The two saves from their goalkeeper from Steve Jones and Kyle Lafferty - the one from Kyle Lafferty, I don't know how he's kept that one out. That was a top drawer save. I can't remember Danny Coyne having to do that today."