PRESTON took their tally to five wins in six games and boosted their hopes of a top six finish.

The game was over before half-time as North End raced into a two goal advantage over Alan Smith's side.

David Healy opened the scoring after just eight minutes, firing home a left footed shot from the edge of the area to take his North End account to six goals.

And, after Mark Rankine was brought down in the area on 24 minutes, right back Graham Alexander converted the spot kick to take his own goal tally to five for the season.

"It was an excellent overall team performance, very professional on a difficult surface," said manager David Moyes.

"It is a good win for us as Palace are a good side. Credit to our defenders who coped well and also the fans, I thought the away support was wonderful."

Moyes welcomed back skipper Sean Gregan for his first start in six games after a knee operation and Moyes stuck with a 4-4-2 formation after losing his third striker Brian McBride to injury.

The American international missed last Saturday's victory over Sheffield Wednesday because of a World Cup qualifier but injured his eye in the match, although he is expected to return for tomorrow night's game at Tranmere.

"Brian is an important player for us and it important to have a full squad to choose from at this time of year," said Moyes.

But frontmen Jon Macken and Healy once more came up with the goods, top scorer Macken almost adding his name to the scoresheet but, after turning the defender on 16 minutes, his shot in the area was inches wide.

Lee Cartwright also had a chance to score his first of the season when a cross-cum-shot on 28 minutes hit the crossbar. Neither Rankine or Macken could pounce to follow it up.

North End had to be on their alert with Clinton Morrison and Mikael Forssell looking lively up front for Palace but Tepi Moilanen stook firm in the Preston goal as they also notched up their fifth clean sheet in six outings.