Manchester City turned on the style against Preston to re-establish their three-point lead at the top of the Nationwide First Division yesterday.
The Blues' slip-up at Wimbledon last week allied to Wolves' win at Crystal Palace in the week had seen City's lead cut to goal difference. But after a shaky opening when the visitors should have made them pay, Kevin Keegan's men showed why they are odds-on for a quick return to the Premiership as they swept North End aside in a pulsating second half.
Jon Macken scored for Preston 90 seconds after the interval, but City levelled 90 seconds later through Shaun Wright-Phillips and it was left to City's two returning luminaries, Steve Howey and Paulo Wanchope, to score the decisive goals. The substitute Iain Anderson scored in injury time for Preston, but a point would have been undeserved for David Moyes' side on the balance of play.
"We had to show a lot of different qualities today," City's manager, Kevin Keegan, said. "We had to come back from a goal down but we then scored three great goals. I thought we thoroughly deserved the win."
A goal had looked on the cards as the opening period ended and it took only 90 seconds of the second half before the deadlock was broken when Macken put the visitors ahead. Rob Edwards robbed Wright-Phillips and released Macken, who raced clear and finished low past Weaver from 10 yards.
But within another 90 seconds again the home side were level when Wright-Phillips volleyed home from eight yards after Richard Cresswell attempted to clear a Kevin Horlock corner but only succeeded in teeing up the wing-back.
In the 56th minute the Blues went ahead through Howey as the visitors again failed to clear a corner. Howey reacted first when Teuvo Moilanen failed to gather Ali Benarbia's kick and slotted home.
It came as no surprise when Wanchope extended City's lead in the 74th minute. The striker latched on to Eyal Berkovic's through-ball and his right-foot drive from 12 yards gave Moilanen no chance as it flew in off the underside of the bar.
More chances came and went for Keegan's men, before Anderson set up a tense last three minutes by deftly chipping past Weaver from David Healy's fine through ball.
Goals: Macken (47) 0-1; Wright-Phillips (49) 1-1; Howey (56) 2-1; Wanchope (74) 3-1; Anderson (90) 3-2.
Manchester City: Weaver; Dunne, Howey, Pearce, Jensen, Berkovic (Tiatto, 80), Horlock, Benarbia (Ritchie, 84), Wanchope, Wright-Phillips (Wiekens, 82), Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Dickov.
Preston North End: Moilanen; Alexander, Gregan, Lucketti, Edwards, Cartwright (Gudjonsson, 71), Etuhu, Keane, Healy, Macken, Cresswell (Anderson, 82). Substitutes not used: Lucas (gk), Skora, Eaton.
Referee: A Bates (Stoke on Trent).
Bookings: Man City: Berkovic. Preston: Gregan, Alexander.
Man of the match: Wanchope.