Preston North End scored three unanswered goals at Deepdale to maintain their place in the top six, with a home win against Stevenage.
North End took the lead on the stroke of half-time, a Joel Byrom crossing deep for Paul Huntington at the back post to head back across goal into the bottom corner.
They doubled the lead just before the hour mark, Scott Laird scoring his first goal since his broken leg against his former club with a near post header from Chris Humphrey’s right wing cross.
Kevin Davies added his second goal of the week to make it 3-0 in the last ten minutes, finishing off a fine ball from Scott Laird with aplomb.
Chris Humphrey and Iain Hume came into the side, with Lee Holmes – this week becoming a father for the second time – and David Buchanan dropping to the bench.
The big talking point pre-match took place in the dug out, when former manager Graham Westley refused to accept the hand of PNE coach John Dreyer.
The Lilywhites, however, were concentrating on the football and they started well, the pace of returning winger Humphrey, back from international duty with Jamaica crossing deep in the fourth minute for Iain Hume at the back post, but he couldn’t quite direct the ball on target.
Hume looked motivated and bright playing behind the front two of Davies and Beavon and he put in a great driving run just before the quarter hour mark, before firing a shot from 25 yards, but he dragged his effort just wide of the right hand upright.
However, it wasn’t all PNE in the first half. Robin Shroot’s 17th minute free kick was headed behind by Scott Laird; and Roarie Deacon had an excellent chance to score.
The No.34, a former PNE trialist, in fact had two great chances to give Stevenage the lead. A free kick from Luke Freeman headed down by former Hartlepool man Peter Hartley, it was cleared by the legs of Declan Rudd – it came back out to Deacon, whose shot was blocked on the line by Bailey Wright and then he fired over from the second attempt as it came back to him.
But North End went even closer on 25 minutes. A ball into the box from Scott Laird, was headed across goal by Kevin Davies; Stuart Beavon spun and shot, but it hit the bar, came back out to Hume who headed onto the post. It again came back out to birthday boy Joel Byrom, but he dragged the shot wide of the left post.
The Lilywhites were becoming more of a threat though as the half went on and in the last minute of the half their pressure brought the opener. It started with a great break from Joel Byrom from inside his own half. He powered forward before spreading the ball wide to Humphrey. His drove inside and created space before a clever pull back to Byrom, who had continued his run. He met the ball sweetly with a left-footed side-footer, but it was brilliantly deflected just wide for a corner by a Boro defender.
It was North End’s first corner of the half and it was cleverly played, with Byrom playing it shot to Laird. It came back to Byrom, who took his time before picking out a cross to the back post where Paul Huntington got up to head back across goal, past former PNE loanee Chris Day and into the bottom corner for his first goal of the season.
The visitors started the half brightly and Omoure Tounkara forced Rudd into a fine save to his right inside the first 60 seconds.
In the 50th minute Chris Humphrey was screaming for a penalty as Roarie Deacon appeared to pull him back, but Premier League referee Roger East awarded only a corner, which eventually saw Kevin Davies force a fine save from Day with a powerful 20 yard volley.
Day showed he was in superb form when he brilliantly tipped over Beavon’s 25 volley from Davies’ knock down on 54 minutes, a brilliant one handed effort denying the front man his second goal in as many games.
Just before the hour mark it was two and this time another header from former Stevenage man, Scott Laird. It came from a good spell of possession and passing by North End, eventually coming out to Chris Humphrey on the right hand side, who delivered a perfect cross for Laird, who powered a header into the bottom right hand corner.
If Day’s earlier save had been good, Declan Rudd showed his abilities to deny Shroot on 64 minutes, the wing man having found time and space inside the box to curl a ball towards the top left hand corner.
Kevin Davies could have made it three with 20 minutes to go, Humphrey turning Deacon inside out on the right before delivering another perfect cross to the penalty spot, which the former England frontman got good connection to, but couldn’t keep it down.
And the frontman did make it three with seven minutes left and it was a superb goal on the break. The ball was won at the back by Bailey Wright, he played it up to Stuart Beavon, who in turn sent Scott Laird down the left; he delivered a superb ball to Davies, who took one touch and fired hard and low into the bottom left hand corner with seven minutes left.
A rampant North End could have made it four as they pushed on for more goals, Davies’ shot deflected wide by his own man after an excellent ball from substitute John Welsh, but they had to settle for the three and the three points.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Keane, Laird, Huntington, Clarke, Wright, Humphrey (Welsh, 72), K Davies, Beavon, Byrom (Mousinho, 85), Hume (Holmes, 77). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Wroe, Holmes, Buchanan, Garner, Welsh, Mousinho.
Stevenage line-up: Day, Ashton, Heslop (Tansey, 62), Freeman, Smith (Wedgbury, 63), Tounkara, Gray, Doughty, Hartley (Jones, 69), Shroot, Deacon. Subs not used: Arnold, Hills, Jones, Burrow, Lopez.
Referee: Mr R East
Attendance: 8,855 (118 away fans)