Poor Preston put to flight

PERFORMANCES don't come much better than this.Three goals, a clean sheet, hit a post, had one cleared off the line, a penalty denied and an average of one shot every four minutes.

By Derek Davis

PERFORMANCES don't come much better than this.

Three goals, a clean sheet, hit a post, had one cleared off the line, a penalty denied and an average of one shot every four minutes.

Even given the quality of the opposition, which was not much, the Blues' display was impressive.

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Admittedly they got away with a couple of things, not least a miss by Paul McKenna in the opening couple of minutes when Kevin Horlock made an unusual right horlicks to gift Preston the ball and McKenna whizzed past Richard Naylor before blazing over the bar.

No wonder the Town number 11 joked: “I was their best player,” as the players went off at half time.

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Mind you he could afford to be jovial after not putting another foot wrong and Town were two-up by then, although they had to wait until the 44th minute to crack the Lilywhites.

Shefki Kuqi may have used the top part of his arm, he insists it was the shoulder, to control an excellent Jim Magilton through ball.

The Kosovan-born striker cruised past Preston skipper Chris Lucketti and into the area before slipping the ball past the onrushing Gavin Ward from six yards.

It was a quality finish from the Finland international who treated the crowd to his spectacular high dive celebration.

Preston manager Billy Davies was not impressed and was livid the goal was not disallowed.

By the same token the referee refused to give Town a penalty as Bent took a long clearance from Lewis Price but was nudged in the back by Brian O'Neil and tumbled in the area.

And a yellow card for the stamp by Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu on Ian Westlake which broke the skin and left stud marks down his thigh, barely seemed adequate.

A minute into time added on and Kuqi was involved in Tommy Miller's first goal in 10 games.

The bustling forward headed on a Lewis Price clearance for Ian Westlake to push on for Darren Bent. He pulled it back but Youl Mawene thwarted Westlake. The ball fell to Miller who thrashed it in from 10 yards.

It was just as Miler and Town deserved.

The midfielder had taken a hefty whack on a calf after just 10 minutes but still made a number of surging runs into the area, causing mayhem.

He might have put one away midway through the first half but snatched at the opportunity and hit his shot straight at the keeper.

North End had done well to hold on with on-loan Portsmouth defender John Curtis clearing a Westlake shot off the line after being teed up by Kuqi.

Kuqi was combining well with Bent who had a terrific shot from 22-yards tipped over the crossbar and was denied by a brave Ward save.

Magilton played a slide rule pass to Bent, who got to the ball a split second before Ward but couldn't guide it past him. It rebounded back to Kuqi whose 18-yard shot curled onto a post and away.

After throwing away a two-goal lead at Watford the week before the half-time talk was about not repeating mistakes but for the first 20 minutes of the second half there was nervousness about Town.

Preston have not won away since last January and have not scored in six games but even the usually generous Town defence were not going to let that change and held on, although they did rely on an offside flag midway through the second half.

Jason De Vos got in some vital headers, Naylor threw himself around and forcibly ensured clearances were made.

Drissa Diallo showed terrific determination to get back and put in tackles, especially on Sheffield Wednesday's loan striker Ndumbu- Nsungu.

The African forced a save from Price and when he did get the ball in, with a diving header from a Graham Alexander free kick, it was ruled out.

That meant Town kept their third clean sheet of the season in the league and the first in 10 games.

The scare prompted Ipswich into stepping up a gear and Kuqi was once more involved in the build up for Town's third.

He laid it on for Westlake who squared for Bent who hit a ferocious 18-yard drive for his fifth goal of the season.

There was no way back for Preston although Dickson Etuhu scorned a good chance at the death for a consolation.

A good afternoon's work was slightly marred by the loss of Miller to a calf injury and Fabian Wilnis to a strained hamstring.

The lack of depth in Town's squad was again highlighted with the team finishing with four strikers on the pitch.

Not a problem against a lightweight Preston, who are clearly going to miss David Healy, but whether Town would get away with it against the likes of Sheffield United, who visit tomorrow, is another matter.

One other gripe could be the crowd. It was not so much it was only a little more than 23,000 but such a good showing deserved more vociferous support at a surprisingly subdued Portman Road.

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