Simon Grayson admitted that Preston North End had been well below par during their defeat to Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road on Saturday.
Goals from Adam Dugdale and Mathias Pogba gave the Railwaymen a two-goal lead before John Welsh struck a stoppage-time consolation.
The Lilywhites will now face Rotherham United in the play-off semi-final, with the first leg at Deepdale next Saturday (5.15pm) and the away leg on Thursday, May 15.
North End boss Grayson said: “I did think that Crewe played well, they were on the front foot and made it difficult for us.
“They did not look like a team who have conceded the most goals in the division.
“It was never going to be an easy game given what was riding on it.
“Crewe were fighting to stay in the division and they secured safety.
“Their first goal gave them something to hang on to.
“We went chasing it and Crewe are a team with a bit of pace about them who can hit you on the counter attack.
“They were two soft goals to conceded, a set piece for the first one and then their lad got to the byline too easily and pulled it back to Pogba who was free to score.”
Despite the defeat, Grayson says North End will go into the play-offs in good heart.
He points to his side’s good record of bouncing back from defeats this season, and expects a strong response against Rotherham.
Grayson said: “I wouldn’t like to think that the Crewe defeat will have too much impact.
“It might even sharpen one or two up mentally.
“We have always reacted well after defeats.
“Recently we have done well and sometimes when you have scored six, five and three in matches, one or two might just think it is a bit easier than it is.
“This was a reminder of what we have to do.”