Luton Town 3 Preston North End 0

Howard's way keeps Hatters flying high

A result that had looked on the cards from the opening minutes lifted Luton to third place in the Championship - and even more sweetly for them, took them above local rivals Watford, who will need to win at Coventry tonight to regain their position.

In his programme notes, Luton's manager Mike Newell remarked upon the number of people who had complimented his team's style during last Friday's 2-2 draw here against Sheffield Wednesday.

By the time the whistle went in this match, his players managed to surpass their previous week's efforts with a performance worthy of the highest praise.

Certainly, Newell's counterpart, Billy Davies, was unstinting in his admiration while being put out by his own side's showing. "That's as poor as I've seen us play," Davies said. "Our defending in the first 20 minutes was appalling but huge credit to Luton. They deserved what they got. They worked very hard and they outmuscled us."

Newell baulked at the idea that his men were "magnificent" in the first half. "We played some decent stuff," was all he would say. He acknowledged that expectations will rise further after this performance.

"People were saying before the season how great it would be if we could stay in the Championship. After six weeks, they are worried that Reading and Sheffield United are getting away from us at the top. There's a long way to go yet."

The home side imposed their will upon this contest within four minutes as a canny nod forward by Steve Howard caught the Preston defence flat-footed and allowed Howard's striking partner Warren Feeney to scamper through before rolling the ball smartly past the oncoming keeper.

Luton doubled their lead after 11 minutes when a cross from the left wing by Chris Coyne was nodded home at the far post by Luton's Croatian midfielder Ahmet Brkovic as he took advantage of more somnolent Preston defending.

Suitably relaxed, the Hatters proceeded to knock the ball around to the point where a Preston side which also knows how to play a bit began to look demoralised.

Brkovic might have doubled his tally after ghosting through the defence after 24 minutes, but was denied by a save from Carlo Nash.

Luton gained further deserved reward for their superiority after 38 minutes when Brkovic knocked the ball in from the right to Howard, and the strapping centre-forward drove home a shot which deflected off Preston's Paul McKenna.

Something had to change for Preston and they emerged for the second half with McKenna giving way to forward Patrick Agyemang as the formation altered from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2.

It was a positive effort from Preston's manager Davies, but he might as well not have bothered .

Howard had a flurry of opportunities at the start of the half and seemed certain to add his second goal after being put through by Brkovic but allowed the keeper to block his shot.

After 68 minutes, Luton's centre-back Coyne demonstrated his versatility with a foray up field which ended with a drive that battered the bar. Nearly everything was going Luton's way.

Luton Town (4-4-2): Beresford; Edwards, Coyne, Heikkinen, Davis; Brkovic (Keane, 85), Nicholls, Robinson (Holmes, 74), Morgan (Showunmi, 80); Howard, Feeney. Substitutes not used: Perrett, Brill (gk).

Preston North End (4-5-1): Nash; Alexander, Lucketti, Hill, Davidson; Sedgwick, Etuhu, McKenna (Agyemang, 45), Jones, L Neal (Mears, 57); Dichio (Hibbert, 80). Substitutes not used: Lonergan (gk), Nowland.

Referee: C Penton (Sussex).

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