Gayle hat-trick fires West Brom to victory over Preston
West Brom striker Dwight Gayle grabbed a hat-trick in a 4-1 Sky Bet Championship win against Preston at The Hawthorns.
Gayle struck first in the 27th minute and then grabbed his second four minutes later as Albion ended a run of back-to-back defeats to strengthen their position in the play-off zone.
Jay Rodriguez then grabbed his 21st of the season in the 43rd minute with Albion’s third before Gayle completed his treble in the second half.
Preston striker Callum Robinson grabbed a last-minute consolation when he converted a Lukas Nmecha cross.
Preston manager Alex Neil, who has been linked with the vacant manager’s job at Albion, cut a frustrated figure as he watched his side crash to a fourth successive defeat.
Albion made a positive start with captain Chris Brunt firing just wide and Stefan Johansen having his shot saved by goalkeeper Declan Rudd in the opening five minutes.
On-loan Fulham midfielder Johansen was at the forefront of Albion’s early pressure and saw another shot deflected for a corner in the 13th minute.
Johansen then turned provider after 18 minutes to set up Rodriguez whose 20-yard shot was tipped over the bar by Rudd.
From the resulting corner, Kyle Bartley headed into the side netting at the far post.
Preston finally tested Albion goalkeeper Sam Johnstone in the 27th minute when Ben Davies saw his deflected shot saved, but seconds later they were behind.
Preston were undone by a pin-point cross-field pass from Brunt.
He picked out Gayle on the angle of the six-yard box and the on-loan Newcastle forward volleyed his shot into the far corner of the net.
Albion quickly doubled their advantage following a surging run into the area by Johansen.
He was halted by a challenge from Ryan Ledson but the loose ball fell kindly to Gayle whose low shot gave Rudd no chance.
Johansen had a hand in Albion’s third as well.
His long-range shot was deflected into the path of Rodriguez who made no mistake from 12 yards.
Following their disappointing first-half performance, Preston looked more determined after the interval.
They almost reduced the arrears on the hour when Nmecha flashed a cross across the face of the Albion goal and Robinson was inches away from converting it at the far post.
But after that flurry, Albion took control again with Gayle completing his hat-trick with a close-range header.
Albion forced a corner when Rudd saved from Brunt and when the ball was swung into the crowded penalty area, Gayle was on hand to nod home at the far post.
Rudd then ensured that Albion did not grab a fifth with a smart save to deny Matt Phillips in the 84th minute before Robinson struck.