Dave Seddon's verdict: Luton 3 Preston North End 0 - Lilywhites second best everywhere on the pitch at Kenilworth Road
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Four days after beating Middlesbrough 3-0, Luton Town brushed them aside by the same scoreline at Kenilworth Road.
The Hatters and PNE might have kicked-off at 3pm on level pegging points wise but over the course of the afternoon they were poles apart.
There was a degree of parity in the first 20 minutes but from then on the hosts did everything better.
North End were second best everywhere on the pitch and Luton took full advantage, James Collins especially.
The Luton striker struck a hat-trick, showing a degree of potency that the visitors could only dream off.
It would be churlish to say the Lilywhites defence made it easy for him but neither did he have to put his neck on the block to score the treble.
After the final whistle I put on Twitter that the display was akin to that of the one against Blackburn in terms of its poor standard.
Having thought more about it on the way home from Bedfordshire, I changed my tune. It was worse.
Blackburn are a better side than Luton and North End kept a full set of players on the pitch on Saturday unlike in the derby defeat.
Hardly a battle was won, no one in a green shirt could hand on heart say they got remotely near their best.
You just hope they can quickly draw a line under it and be better – far better – at Barnsley on Tuesday night.
Alex Neil lamented the lack of competitiveness from his side in the post-match press conference.
The PNE manager did get it in the neck from some fans on social media but on this occasion, I felt it should be the players carrying the can.
This defeat wasn’t down to tactics or the wrong system, it was the application.
It matters not what formation is played when players simply don’t do the basics well enough.
Neil went with the same XI who started the win over Boro, feeling the personnel and shape was right for another go.
Before an hour had been played, he had changed five of them, with four of the substitutions voluntary.
None of the 10 outfield players could have raised any complaint had they been the ones subbed.
Alan Browne spoke on behalf of the dressing players afterwards.
'Embarrassing', 'abysmal', 'outclassed', were three of the words to tumble from the skipper’s lips in front of the press.
Fair play to Browne for fronting up on a day when he fell below his usual standards on the pitch.
North End have been very good on the road this season, that probably adding to the disappointment at this result.
Trips down to the lower half of the M1 this last fortnight haven’t gone well.
A few junctions further down, PNE perished 4-1 at Watford. But for a touch of wayward shooting from Luton, they might have scored four or more goals themselves.
To think though, better finishing from North End early doors could have seen a much different outcome.
Three times they got a sight of goal before Luton had really raised a gallop in terms of going forward.
Jayden Stockley, Tom Barkhuizen and Browne got in good positions
Stockley sent a header down into the ground and bouncing over the bar, Barkhuizen brought a comfortable save from James Shea – the one time the Luton keeper had to get his gloves dirty – while Browne lifted a shot too high at the end of a decent counter.
Collins showed them how to do it at the other end by burying the home side’s first chance in the 20th minute.
Nine minutes later he got his second, completing his hat-trick with 24 minutes left.
North End had no answer, for the first time this season they failed to score away.
It brought a three-game unbeaten run to an end, one in which they had gathered seven points.
Defeat left them in 15th place, that mid-table bracket an accurate reflection.
Such a position shows that Neil’s men have got a bit of everything in them, an ability to win – pretty impressively at times – but also the vulnerability to defeat.
Just recently when they’ve lost – Blackburn, Watford and now Luton – it’s been very much a case of playing second fiddle to their opponents.
You could see why Neil kept it unchanged from the Boro victory, even if two of the goals last Wednesday night came after four subs had come on.
Perhaps such faith has to be put to one side during a spell of Saturday/midweek football which we are in the midst of at the moment.
By the time Neil was able to introduce fresh legs and minds at Luton, the game was getting beyond them.
The Hatters’ opener was well created and finished but wasn’t great on PNE’s part.
They gave possession away in midfield, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu lifting a great ball towards the box from the inside-right channel.
Paul Huntington got too far under it, the ball travelling over his head and allowing Collins to get in behind, control the ball smartly before steering a right-foot finish past Declan Rudd.
His second nine minutes later was gift-wrapped, Luton working a short corner on the left before it was delivered into the middle.
Stockley’s clearing header at the far post travelled just a few yards, Glenn Rea chipping it back into the six-yard box for Collins to lean forward and nod it over the line.
Collins’ third goal was not quite gift-wrapped but there was generosity about Preston’s defending.
Jordan Storey stumbled slightly as he tried to clear a routine ball forward, it picked up by Harry Cornick who fed a pass to Collins on the edge of the box.
He stepped across Storey as the sub tried to recover before turning a firing a low shot past Rudd.
It delivered a 100th win for energetic Hatters boss Nathan Jones - certainly not a man who stands still in the technical area - in his 200th game in charge of the club.
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