NEW YORK, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Front-month U.S. natural gas futures reversed course and headed lower early Thursday, pressured by profit taking after three straight days of gains and ahead of what should be a bearish weekly inventory report later this morning. But despite the modest pullback, traders expect only limited downside with heating demand expected to pick up when another shot of cold moves into the Midwest late next week and then spreads east, blanketing much of the nation. "Weather forecasts indicating below-normal temperatures and increased heating needs during the second half of this month continue to provide a boost to the market," Addison Armstrong at Tradition Energy said in a report. At 9:15 a.m. EST (1415 GMT), front-month gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange were down 0.9 cent at $3.409 per million British thermal units after trading between $3.403 and $3.453. The nearby contract, which hit a 6-1/2-week high of $3.645 two weeks ago, had gained 3.5 percent in the previous three sessions following a 4.2 percent slide last week. Gas prices have tried to rally this week since last week's low in the $3.20 area, but traders noted that the move up has been difficult, with inventories still relatively high, production flowing at or near a record peak and another brief warm up expected next week that should again slow demand. "The 6-10 day (forecast) continues to transition cooler. By the 11-15 day, the American and European ensembles agree on widespread, nearly coast-to-coast cold," private forecaster Commodity Weather Group said in its morning report. Chart traders said the technicals turned neutral this week as the front month contract broke minor resistance at the 40-day and 100-day moving averages on the way up, but most agreed it would take a close above the $3.645 high from two weeks ago to turn the trend bullish. BELOW AVERAGE STORAGE DRAW EXPECTED The U.S. Energy If drawdowns for the rest of winter match the five-year average, inventories will end March at 2.032 tcf, about 18 percent above normal, but 18 percent below last year, when stocks finished a mild heating season at a record-high 2.48 tcf.