A JOE Garner hat-trick was enough to sink a much changed Swindon side in what proved to be a game of men against boys.

The 27-year-old moved onto 25 goals for the season as he opened the scoring with less than two minutes on the clock.

A second came a minute into first half injury time before he scored his third six minutes into the second half to wrap up a comfortable win for the hosts.

Mark Cooper made seven changes to the side that drew with Walsall in mid-week, with Sam Ricketts, Jordan Turnbull, Jack Stephens and Anton Rodgers the only players to keep their place.

Jermaine Hylton was handed a first start, as he partnered Michael Smith up front, with Tyrel Belford, George Barker, Jack Barthram, Will Randall and Lee Marshall all included in the starting XI.

Preston, who knew a win could secure them an automatic promotion place if MK Dons lost, got off to the best start in front of a rocking Deepdale crowd.

With the game barely underway, a looped ball over the top of the Swindon back line played in Garner who was able to latch onto it and loop the ball over an on-rushing Belford and into an empty net.

At that stage it was feared how many Preston would rack up against a very inexperienced Swindon side, with the hosts pressing high and hurrying them with every touch of the ball.

However Swindon settled into the game and started to play some attractive football with both Jack Barthram and Lee Marshall impressing.

It was the former who stung the gloves of Sam Johnstone mid-way through the half but despite Town’s endeavour there was very little that worried the Preston stopper.

Swindon were then dealt a blow that took the wind out of their sails just a minute before the break.

Turnbull, who had already been booked for dragging down Garner down the right, was penalised for another foul on the forward.

Paul Gallagher took the free-kick from 30-yards out and the Swindon defence left Garner wide open for him to double Preston’s lead with his head.

It was pretty much one way traffic in the second half as Cooper’s young side began to tire and Garner had a chance to grab his hat-trick early on when he got on the end of a Chris Humphrey cross but his header was just over Belford’s bar.

However it was not long before he did get his third as Preston further extended their lead six minutes after the break.

Jermaine Beckford saw his shot rattle off the crossbar but Garner is on hand to head home into an empty net.

Despite the introduction of Andy Williams, Town were restricted to speculative efforts from outside the box with Johnstone very rarely being troubled.

However down the other end Preston enjoyed much of the ball, with Gallagher and Garner linking up well until the striker was brought off with 15 minutes to go to a standing ovation from a crowd of more than 17,000.

The game was left to peter out in the remaining minutes with Preston moving a step closer to automatic promotion and Swindon left thinking of what could have been as they continue to prepare for the play-offs.

SWINDON TOWN: Belford T, Ricketts (C), Stephens, Turnbull, Barthram, Rodgers (Smith T 70’), Marshall, Randall, Barker (Williams 54’), Smith M (Cooke 83’), Hylton

Unused subs: Belford C, Jones, Antonio, Wood

PRESTON: Johnstone, Laird, Clarke, Wright, Humphrey, Beckford (Robinson 80’), Gallagher, Garner (Davies 75’), Welsh (Kilkenny 86’), Huntington, Johnson

Unused subs: Stuckmann, Wiseman, Woods, Ebanks-Blake