Assistant manager Davie Irons admitted that no-one at Carlisle United saw the 6-1 thrashing at Preston North End coming.

The Cumbrians arrived at Deepdale having not conceded a goal in their last three games, but that all changed as Craig Davies helped himself to a second-half hat-trick as North End ran riot.

Stuart Beavon, Alan Browne and Lee Holmes also got on the scoresheet as Graham Kavanagh's men dropped into the League One relegation zone, leaving Irons and his team shell-shocked.

"It's a major disappointment for us all," he said. "We certainly didn't see that result or performance coming.

"We've been really solid with four clean sheets in our last five games so we came here with confidence, but we have left with our tails firmly between our legs.

"I express our sincere apologies to the fans on behalf of the players and the management, our performance certainly wasn't good enough on the day. But we've still got a massive job to do.

"We still firmly believe we are good enough to get out of the position we are in, although I know it doesn't look likely after a performance like that.

"We'll have to regroup and stick together. We win as a team and lose as a team, nobody is getting blamed individually.``

Gary Madine netted for the second consecutive game since rejoining the Cumbrians on loan four minutes before half-time, making the score 2-1 at that stage.

Irons said: `` We came in at half-time really back in the game and had a really positive discussion. We thought with Preston comfortably in the play-offs that they might not be up for it if we got at them.

"Preston then played some good stuff, carved us open and scored some good goals. We really just did not see that performance coming."

North End boss Simon Grayson was left delighted by a superb team display.

He said: `` There wasn't a weak individual performance. We've all said it's about the squad effort and what they do - players being ready when they come in and having an opportunity to stay in that team.

"As a team, when the third goal went in, you could then see the real high confidence levels coming through.

"We were passing it around quickly and creating some great opportunities and the goalkeeper, to be fair, made two or three more outstanding saves. Obviously it could have been a few more, but it's really pleasing still.``

Grayson added: "I challenged Alan Browne before the game. I said look, you've got the shirt. Now it's yours to lose to a certain degree. And he put on a real good performance.

"I left Bailey Wright out because of the booking situation. I didn't want him to be missing next week. When other people come in and do well it bodes well for the future. Keith Keane at right-back looked really strong and immense - as all the performances were."