In-form Southampton cruise to win against Preston

Che Adams struck twice as Southampton beat Preston 3-0 to narrow the gap on the Championship’s top three.

Stuart Armstrong’s classy strike added to Adams’ double to all-but end the contest by half-time and virtually extinguish Preston’s dwindling hopes of reaching the play-offs.

The win puts the Saints four points behind second-placed Leicester before the two sides meet at the King Power Stadium next Tuesday.

With the top three all faltering and Southampton having won five and drawn two of their past eight – and heading to third-placed Leeds on the final day – the race for automatic promotion from the Championship is now a four-way fight.

Southampton looked to be out of the reckoning to go straight up when they lost at Ipswich on Easter Monday but since then they have garnered 10 points from four games as Leicester, Ipswich and Leeds have all hit a sticky patch.

This game was re-arranged from last month, after a fire close to the St Mary’s Stadium forced a postponement, and Preston, who lost a critical game at home to Norwich on Saturday, were under the cosh from the start.

Southampton were forced into a line-up change when goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu pulled up with an apparent Achilles tendon injury during the warm-up and manager Russell Martin curiously decided that veteran third-choice Alex McCarthy should leapfrog Joe Lumley – named on the bench – to start.

It made little difference with the game heading one way from the moment Saints’ quick passing exposed Preston’s right flank and Adam Armstrong crossed for his strike partner Adams to sweep in the opener for his 100th senior goal.

Ten minutes later it was 2-0 as Southampton again took the Lilywhites apart, Adams dummying Ryan Manning’s pass and peeling away to run onto David Brooks’ instant pass before slipping his second past Preston goalkeeper Freddie Woodman.

Adam Armstrong and Adams both almost caught Woodman off his line with long-range shots that bounced onto the roof of the net as Preston were taken apart.

Duane Holmes was having a torrid time up against Stuart Armstrong, coming within inches of conceding a penalty as he tripped Ryan Manning, and he was also at fault for the killer third goal.

His weak clearance went as far as Stuart Armstrong, 20 yards out, and he picked out the bottom corner with an elegant shot.

Holmes was substituted as Lowe sought to stem the tide, but Stuart Armstrong struck a post as the one-way traffic continued.

Southampton eased off in the second half as Martin prepared for Saturday’s trip to Cardiff by making a welter of substitutions but only brilliant saves from Woodman denied Adams his hat-trick and prevented Brooks from adding to the tally.

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