Hard labour for Newcastle after Lovenkrands lift

Newcastle United 3 Preston North End 0

Five-four-three. Those are the goals scored by Newcastle in their past three home games as the countdown towards promotion continues. However, this was nowhere near as convincing as their previous successes over Cardiff City and Coventry City, and a stoppage-time goal from Ryan Taylor added an undeserved gloss to their performance.

Even their manager, Chris Hughton, admitted: "There will be games when everything doesn't go your way, and for a decent chunk of the game it was very tight. We came into the game on the back of a couple of free-flowing performances here and it's difficult to achieve that every time you play."

Darren Ferguson, the Preston manager, also considered the scoreline was harsh on his team, who produced a response to encourage him after going behind inside the first three minutes to a goal from Peter Lovenkrands.

At least the Dane was honest enough to indicate that he was not attempting to score when his cross drifted over Andy Lonergan and inside the post, not that his gesture was any consolation for the keeper.

The home supporters celebrated, relaxed and sat back to watch the anticipated cruise towards three more points, but Preston proved to be stubborn opponents, and only a splendid save by Steve Harper prevented Jon Parkin equalising in the 16th minute.

Hughton said: "It was an outstanding save and came when we had a dip. It's arguable that it was the save that won us the game. It would have lifted them and who knows what might have happened. He's made some vital saves this season and that was one of them."

Parkin's powerful presence was to pose problems for Newcastle throughout the game, and he was only narrowly off target with a volley in the dying moments of the first half. By then, Lonergan had made amends for his failure to deal with Lovenkrands' cross with fine saves from Alan Smith and Mike Williamson.

A second goal would undoubtedly put the game beyond Preston's reach and it came in the 55th minute thanks to a well-worked move between Kevin Nolan and Smith on the edge of the area. They exchanged passes to allow Nolan to thread his way through a crowd of players before beating Lonergan, who got a hand to the ball but could not beat it away.

Parkin did manage another decent effort that was again saved by Harper before Ryan Taylor added a third after a lengthy period of pressure from Newcastle, driving the ball home in stoppage time.

Ferguson insisted: "It was never a 3-0 game. The scoreline doesn't reflect our performance and I was pleased with the way we came back after their first goal. We didn't let our heads go down and created chances."

However, with the relegation zone not that far below, he said: "If we play like that we'll be OK."

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