Luton produced the perfect response to Sunday’s gutting 2-1 defeat to QPR with a thoroughly convincing victory over Preston North End this evening, once more showing their ability bounce back at the first attempt.
Although the visitors were diabolical on the night, going into the game, they looked a tough cookie, only beaten twice since early December, with five clean sheets in their last six away games.
However, once Luke Berry had put Town in front on eight minutes, there was only winner as the Lilywhites were handed their heaviest defeat of the campaign on a desperate night for Ryan Lowe’s team.
The only down-side to the result was an already depleted Hatters picking up two further injuries, Reece Burke appearing to pull his hamstring, and then top scorer Elijah Adebayo hobbling off late on.
Boss Nathan Jones made four changes, fielding a new-look defence, Peter Kioso and Dan Potts in for Tom Lockyer and Kal Naismith, with Potts taking the captain’s armband, while Berry and Harry Cornick also came in, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Cameron Jerome both missing out.
A subdued start to the game saw Preston settle quicker, as it took a misplaced pass from Ben Whiteman to get the Hatters going, Cornick’s pass setting Adebayo away, Bambo Diaby getting just enough on his sliding intervention.
However, Town then worked the ball right and James Bree’s up and under saw Adebayo challenge two defenders, who had completely ignored Berry, the midfielder left totally unmarked to just roll his side-footer into the bottom corner.
The Hatters’ already patched up back-line then had another plaster applied as Burke pulled up when sprinting back to try and stop Cameron Archer, who was denied by a fine instinctive save from Shea.
That saw Fred Onyedinma come on to move to wing-back, Bree switching to one of the three centre half berths, but rather than the let it affect them, Town went 2-0 up 28 minutes, as the substitute was cleaned out on the right by Andrew Hughes.
Bree stepped up deliver the perfect ball in for Kioso to convert in from close range for his first ever goal for the Hatters. Or so we thought.
With Onyedinma also close by, it was the summer addition who was deemed to have the final touch, credited with the strike during the interval.
Cornick tried to add a third, curling well, well wide from range, as did Ali McCann from a similar distance.
Luton were only dealing in goals it seemed though, as they had a third three minutes before the break when Clark tricked his way forward to find Adebayo.
He played in Cornick whose low cross was met by the trailing leg of Berry who managed to somehow not just get enough on the ball to turn it on target, but also find enough power and precision to beat the mystified Daniel Iversen at his near post.
Town could and maybe should have had a fourth just before the break too, Onyedinma doing terrifically to manufacture a cross on the right which was met by Bell of all people eight yards out, Iversen springing to his left to save.
Emil Riis Jakobsen summed up the visitors pretty hopeless opening period with an ambitious attempt that was shanked well wide, as following the break, Bree’s set-pieces continued to cause problems.
This time Kioso definite did get the required contact, his header cannoning off a covering defender, Adebayo stabbing the loose ball over.
Preston substitute Ched Evans saw his header blocked behind, but the visitors’ evening went from bad to worse as Luton broke away on the left, Cornick finding the overlapping Bell whose shot was batted by Iversen against hapless defender Diaby and into the net.
Still Town pressed, Bree having a field day from set-plays, another met by Adebayo and over via a slight deflection.
Preston’s struggles were clear at both ends of the pitch as they should have pulled one back on 66 minutes, Josh Murphy left in isolation 10 yards from goal, but he slammed wastefully wide, having another shot saved by Shea at his near post.
Jones opted to rest both Berry and Cornick in the closing stages, with Danny Hylton and Carlos Mendes Gomes on, as Kioso still wasn’t giving up on his first goal, swivelling to connect with another Bree corner, arrowing inches past the post.
The only slight worry came late on when Adebayo went off, leaving Jones with headaches in both defence and attack ahead of Saturday’s trip to Hull City, the Tigers doing Town a favour by beating fellow play-off contenders Coventry City this evening.
Hatters: James Shea, James Bree, Amari’i Bell, Peter Kioso, Reece Burke (Fred Onyedinma 23), Dan Potts, Luke Berry (Carlos Mendes Gomes 81), Allan Campbell, Jordan Clark, Harry Cornick (Danny Hylton 77), Elijah Adebayo.
Subs not used: Harry Isted, Admiral Muskwe, Elliot Thorpe, Henri Lansbury.
Lilywhites: Daniel Iversen, Sepp van den Berg, Ben Whiteman, Alan Browne ©, Daniel Johnson, Ali McCann (Josh Murphy 46), Andrew Hughes, Emil Riis Jakobsen (Ched Evans 46), Cameron Archer, Bambo Diaby, Brad Potts (Scott Sinclair 80).
Subs not used: Patrick Bauer, Joe Rafferty, Sean Maguire, Connor Ripley.
Booked: Hughes 27, Whiteman 75, Campbell 87.
Attendance: 9,408 (614 Preston).