PNE 1 Wolves 3

Preston North End's unbeaten run came to a crashing end at the hands of the country's top scorers Wolves.

Alan Irvine's side were handed a painful lesson in finishing with big striker Chris Iwelumo, a player once on trial at Deepdale, bagging a hat-trick - and then being red-carded for appearing to head-butt Sean St Ledger.

It was an afternoon filled with controversy with Neil Mellor having three "goals" disallowed in the first half and referee Martin Atkinson sending three off.

Iwelumo went for a clash with St Ledger, keeper Wayne Hennessey for a professional foul on Mellor and manager Mick McCarthy for an incident as the team left the field at half-time - the boss being ordered to watch the second half from the stand.

Mellor scored a consolation from the penalty spot in second half stoppage time to make the scoreline more respectable. But there could be no complaints about Wolves' superiority as they extended their lead at the top of the Championship table.

McCarthy's rampant side took the lead in the 35th minute when Iwelumo scored with an overhead kick after Preston failed to clear the ball when a header from Sylvain Ebanks-Blake came back off the crossbar.

He added a second from close range in the 66th minute, turning in a low cross from the dangerous Michael Kightly.

And he completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot after 72 minutes when Michael Hart had chooped Kightly down in the box.

Mellor felt aggrieved at having three strikes refused. The first looked to have crossed the line before it was blocked - and appaently by a hand - with Mr Atkinson waving away claims for a goal.

The second was ruled offside when he scored from a quickly-taken free-kick. And the third was disallowed for what the referee saw as a foul by Jon Parkin in the build-up.

Finally Mellor did get on the scoresheet from the spot after Hennessey had pulled him down as he danced round him en route to goal.

Delayed

With kick-off delayed for 15 minutes because of traffic congestion caused by an accident on the M6 near Preston, both teams were champing at the bit by the time the action eventually got underway.

Wolves, as befits the country's leading scorers, started on the front foot with Kightly putting in a tame shot which Andrew Lonergan saved comfortably.

And in the sixth minute the Preston keeper had to save with his legs to deny Kightly again after the winger got free on the right of goal.

But North End were soon into their attacking stride and with just 10 minutes on the clock referee Atkinson and his linesman on the Sir Tom Finney Stand side were embroiled in controversy when Mellor thought he had put the home side in front.

A free kick from the left was headed back into the middle by Darren Carter, keeper Hennessey fumbled the high ball under pressure and Mellor's follow up shot looked to be behind the line when it was blocked by a Wolves defender - the striker claiming there had been a handball too.

But Mr Atkinson looked across to his assistant, who showed no reaction, and the goal was disallowed, much to Mellor's dismay.

Paul McKenna saw a shot charged down on the edge of the Wolves box. And at the other end Iwelumo hammered a shot straight at Lonergan and Richard Stearman sent a 35-yard rising shot just inches over the top.

Lonergan had to get down to smother a side-footed effort from Ebanks-Blake after he had been teed up by Iwelumo.

Barry Nicholson had a chance just after the half hour mark when Parkin played him in, but the midfielder sliced his shot just wide of the left post.

But Wolves were looking dangerous every time they moved forward and it was almost inevitable that they would draw first blood.

It came in the 35th minute when Ebanks-Blake put a header against the crossbar, North End's defence were unable to get the ball out of the danger area and Iwelumo, on the left of goal, scored with an overhead kick which foxed everyone as it found its way across into the opposite corner of the net.

Disallowed

Referee Atkinson then twice disallowed Preston an equaliser in the space of 60 seconds, first ruling Mellor had been offside when he turned a quickly-taken free-kick from Nicholson into the net and then denying the striker another when he turned in a rebound when Parkin's shot had come back off the post - the official signalling a foul by

Parkin before he got in his shot.

And when Mellor appeared to be chopped down 30 yards from goal Mr Atkinson waved play on, prompting Preston fans to further voice their disgust.

Mawene had a chance in stoppage time but put his header just over the bar, bringing to an end a first half which Wolves - and the referee - had dominated.

Wolves boss McCarthy was ordered to watch the second half in the stand after a disagreement with referee Atkinson as the teams left the field.

After the break Preston came out determined to get back in the game, but after 20 minutes forcing Wolves back they were undone by Iwelumo again. Hart gave the ball away, Kightly attacked down the right and when he crossed low the big striker was on hand to turn it into the net from close range.

Penalty

Iwelumo went close to claiming a hat-trick on 68 minutes when Lonergan saved at full stretch. But it wasn't long arriving.

Kightly darted into the area on the right, Hart sent him flying with a badly-timed challenge and referee Atkinson gave a penalty which Iwelumo converted to make it 3-0.

But four minutes after being hailed a hero by the travelling fans the striker was heading for the dressing room in shame, shown the red card for what looked to be a head-butt on St Ledger.

With a man advantage Preston pushed forward looking to reduce the deficit, but they had to wait until stppage time to make the breakthrough.

Mellor got through, rounded the keeper, Hennessey brought him down and was immediately red-carded for a professional foul. Midfielder Jason Sahckell took the jersey and was sent the wrong way by Mellor from the penalty spot.

Earlier Irvine had called for "same again" for the Championship match of the day at Deepdale. The boss stuck with the same team from Tuesday night's impressive win over Nottingham Forest.

And he asked for a repeat performance of the fast, flowing football which had Colin Calderwood's side chasing shadows.

Midweek man of the match Carter got the vote in centre midfield with Richard Chaplow still not ready to return to the 16 following a hamstring strain last weekend at Coventry.

But there was no comeback for big striker Chris Brown who Irvine hinted might claim a seat on the bench after recovering from two months of injury problems.

The manager chose not to risk him and kept faith with the substitutes from Tuesday.

Wolves boss McCarthy made two changes to the side which beat Crystal Palace 2-1 at Molineux in midweek, with Matt Jarvis coming in for Andy Keogh on the left side of midfield and big striker Iwelumo, scorer of five goals prior to the game, returning in place of youngster Sam Vokes.

PNE: Lonergan, Jones, Mawene, St Ledger, Hart, Nicholson, McKenna, Carter,

Sedgwick, Mellor, Parkin.

Substitutes: C Neal, Jarrett, Whaley, Wallace, Elliott.

Wolves: Hennessey, Foley, Collins, Stearman, Ward, Kightly, Henry, Jones, Jarvis,

Ebanks-Blake, Iwelumo.

Substitutes: Edwards, Keogh, Vokes, Shackell, Ikeme.

Referee: Martin Atkinson (West Yorks).

ATT: 17,567