Preston supporter John Roper pleased to see his men move back to third in the table
Not quite the regulation win that North End had hoped it would be but still a priceless three points which leaves us in third place in the Championship table going into the Christmas programme.
Luton were very gritty and determined, as you would expect from a side managed by Graham Jones, but North End never really found top gear in a game that many expected us to win more comfortably.
A rebound from a Gallagher penalty saw us take the lead early in the game and we had looked steady enough until Paul Huntington conceded another questionable penalty just before half-time and Collins made the game all square from the spot right in front of the Luton fans.
Much as North End tried in the second half it was a struggle and Rudd saved brilliantly to keep us in the game, however with six minutes to go we grabbed the points when substitute, Jayden Stockley, kept his cool and fired home from close range, much to the relief of most of the 12,083 inside Deepdale.
Alex Neil made two changes to the side that started against Fulham on Tuesday evening with Darnell Fisher coming in for the suspended Joe Rafferty and Paul Gallagher coming back in at the expense of Brad Potts. A corner from the left saw Bauer fouled at the back post and referee Gavin Ward had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Gally stepped up in his usual style but Shea got a hand to it only to see the North End Captain follow up and give us the lead. Luton had a spell in the first half early on but were very lucky to clear off their own line with Nugent lurking close by. Just before the break North End conceded their fourth penalty in five games when Huntington was adjudged to have fouled McManaman.
It looked very harsh in real time and on the replays but Collins stepped up to level the scores in front of the 865 travelling Luton Fans in the Bill Shankly Kop. I would suggest that the manager gave the players a little piece of his mind during the half time break because North End had been a bit sluggish, almost complacent, in their play and had paid the penalty, literally, late on in the first half.
With 10 minutes gone in the second half Alex Neil started to change it round and Harrop was brought on for Nugent.
I thought the lad had a big influence in the rest of the game and must be pushing for a start at Cardiff next Saturday. Ten minutes later we saw Barkhuizen introduces as North End went for the winner but it was the final substitution, 15 minutes from time, that proved to be the master stroke.
Jayden Stockley ruffled the Luton defence and with the the sound of “Luton reject” ringing in his ears he calmly slotted the ball home right in front of them with just six minutes to go. Seconds earlier Declan Rudd’s legs had saved us from losing the game with a great save from a one on one.
There was the, now, usual six minutes of added time but North End held out comfortably enough for what was a vital victory if not a totally five star perfomance.
As Alex Neil said after the game, we will be talking about being third this week and not about how we played but this game goes to show you cannot be complacent in this division or you will get punished for sure. The attendance at Deepdale wasn’t brilliant considering where we are in the league but poor weather and Christmas being on the horizon is, perhaps, some mitigation for that.
It has been a very good week for North End with six points out of six and although we lost four on the trot in that poor spell we have still taken twelve points from our last eight games starting at Charlton on November 3rd.
The Christmas period can always shuffle the league table around with four games in eleven days and although we will be looking to win every game I would suggest that seven or eight points would be a very good return looking at the calibre of the fixtures.