Simon Grayson felt his Preston players could be proud of themselves for pushing Manchester United all the way in last night’s FA Cup clash at Deepdale.
A fifth-round shock was on the cards when Scott Laird fired North End into a 47th-minute lead with a low shot which deflected in off United right-back Antonio Valencia.
They held that advantage for more than a quarter of an hour before Ander Herrera levelled for the Red Devils.
Marouane Fellaini then put the visitors in front, snaffling up the rebound after Thorsten Stuckmann had saved his initial header.
And two minutes from time, Wayne Rooney netted from the penalty spot, Stuckmann adjudged to have brought him down.
PNE boss Grayson was far from despondent, believing his players had given a good account of themselves on the big stage.
Grayson said: “The players can be very proud of what they have done, I’m certainly proud of them.
“Before they went out I told them to give everything they had got and to contribute to a good FA Cup tie.
“It was a game we could possibly have won, and full credit to our lads because they came across one of the top teams in the world.
“Some of the players which Manchester United had on the pitch were world class.
“But when they left here, United knew they had been in a football match and we can draw confidence from that.
“We knew that we had to be solid in the first half, if we had been too open and stretched we could have got cut to pieces by the quality they have.
“We stayed nice and solid, tried to make them play through the middle where we had the strength of three in midfield and three centre-backs.
“What we wanted was for the wing-backs to push on a little bit more in the second half to get us into the game on the attacking side of it.
“That proved the case when Scott Laird got into that good position and gave us the lead.
“We wanted to try and build on that.
“United changed the shape of their team and I was trying to get our subs on to combat that – we were getting done down the sides a bit.”
Grayson felt North End could have slight complaints about all three of the United goals but kept any moaning to a minimum.
“When you look at their goals, all were slightly contentious,” said Grayson.
“For the first goal, it was in that grey area when it comes to the offside rule.
“Wayne Rooney wasn’t directly in front of Thorsten Stuckmann but was just to the side – sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t.
“For the second, Tom Clarke was pushed slightly by Fellaini when the cross came over.
“Then for the third, Rooney was not touched by the keeper.
“Yes, he had to jump out of the way because Stucky came sliding out but he didn’t touch him.
“All three goals could have worked out differently but that is the fine margins in football matches.
“We are not going to complain but we didn’t get the breaks needed which you need if you are going to win games of this importance.”
Next up for North End is Saturday’s home game with Scunthorpe.
Grayson says that his players can use last night’s game as motivation for maintaining a determined promotion push.
He also hopes some of the extra fans who helped fill the ground against United can come back in the future.
Said Grayson: “Deepdale was rocking, the whole club can be proud of how it handled itself.
“We now have to take it forward and concentrate on the league.
“Our sole aim this season is to get promotion, all the cup games have been a bonus.
“We have told the players to take all the belief and confidence they got from this performance into the remaining 18 league games.
“We have a good squad and have to maintain the belief.
“Last night, we went toe-to-toe with players who have graced World Cups and big Premier League matches
“Even at 2-1 down, we kept on going in the belief we could get a goal to take United back for a replay at Old Trafford.
“It wasn’t to be but I’m proud of what we did.
“We haven’t had any regrets with team selection, performance or what we tried to do. As a manager can’t ask any more.
“The system we used was one we played it a lot last season and we also played it at Chesterfield last week.
“We are comfortable playing that way.
“It wasn’t changing our system to accommodate United, it was to help us.
“We benefited from having two up front and three in midfield.
“It worked for a long time, we just wanted more attacking play.
“When Scott’s goal went in I thought it could be our night.”