Tony Mowbray felt his side were naïve in defeat at Preston North End – and said goalkeeper Christian Walton ‘messed up’ for the goal that gave the hosts a lifeline.

Preston scored three times in the second half, with a Daniel Johnson penalty sandwiched between two goals from Tom Barkhuizen.

Rovers had led 2-0 at the break, with Sam Gallagher scoring his first league goal since his £5m move from Southampton in the 12th minute, having seen his header go in off the back of Declan Rudd inside 30 seconds.

The first Preston goal from Barkhuizen came after Walton misjudged a deep Darnell Fisher cross, believing the ball to be drifting out, with Mowbray believing that was a key turning point in the game.

He said: “Any game you don’t win is tough to take. We had two great chances to make it 3-0, Derrick Williams with a free header back stick and a better touch from Adam Armstrong and he’s through one on one.

“If they don’t score the first goal I don’t think they score (at all).They didn’t have an idea how to score first half.

“You have to say the goalkeeper messed up for their first goal, gave it them on a plate, and then the crowd are up.

“We have been dominant in lots of games recently but an inability to win games.

“I can sit here and tell you about (Darragh) Lenihan missing who would have dealt with the first ball much better, because he’s so dominant.

“Our left back (Greg Cunningham) is injured and out for the season, but I thought we gave a good account of ourselves in the first half.

“Second half, I’ve given the reasons. The first goal was really important because it gets the crowd involved.

“At half time there were boos because they were getting well beaten.

“You have to understand what you’re good at, what you need to work at, and how to get better. Maybe we have to get cleverer at how we deal with things.”

Referee Stephen Martin awarded a second half penalty to North End, as Elliott Bennett brought down Alan Browne, but Mowbray felt the official’s performance was ‘naïve’.

“I told the referee at the end of the game that his performance was so naïve it was unbelievable to watch,” he added.

“Naïve in knowing what’s a foul and what isn’t. I’ve never known so many six feet tall men fall over. The whistle blew constantly.

“I would have to say, and it’s my opinion, he was really, really poor.

“That sounds like sour grapes but they had a 6’5” centre forward on the pitch, it makes sense to win a foul 10 yards in to your own half because you get the chance to put the ball in the box.

“He fell for it time and time again.

“My own team are pretty naïve in that fact as well. That’s football, we’re just disappointed.

“Wherever they are in the league, and wherever we are, it just shows that on the day anyone can beat anyone.”

Preston levelled the game up inside 20 minutes of the second half re-starting, with the introduction of striker Jayden Stockley in the 30th minute, turning the game on its head.

“I don’t think they went all guns blazing. I thought they booted it long,” Mowbray said of North End’s response.

“That’s what I saw. They put it in our box, pushed men in for the second balls, pretty basic stuff, and we didn’t deal with it well enough.

“The goalie messed up (for the first goal), thought it was going out.

“These are professional footballers, they know what’s coming. At 2-0 up the opposition are going to have some harsh words and get riled up for it but you have see it out.”