Graham Westley thinks the ‘wheels have come off the wagon’ for Preston North End since the injuries to full-back pair Scott Laird and Keith Keane.
The weekend’s 3-1 home reverse to Crewe was their second league defeat on the bounce, with the result dropping them down to 14th position in League One.
Goals from Luke Murphy, Bradden Inman and Mathias Pogba had the visitors 3-0 up by the 51st minute, before Paul Huntington headed a consolation two minutes from time. It was North End’s poorest home performance of the campaign, Westley acknowledging that his side had fallen short.
Westley said: “In the three games we have played since the two full-backs Keane and Laird went out, we haven’t shown the ingredients as a team that it takes to win matches.
“Before that we had got ourselves to a decent level of form and performance, and results had been fairly consistent – we were unbeaten in seven.
“But the wheels have come off the wagon, the ingredients needed to win football matches weren’t there against Leyton Orient and on Saturday.
“In all honesty, the FA Cup win over Gillingham was an unconvincing performance with us spending a lot of the second half on the back foot when really we should have been better.
“We haven’t replaced the full-backs in a way that is getting the team functioning and performing.
“There is a lot of problem solving to do to make sure we recover the ground which we have lost in this rocky period.”
North End were without Stuart Beavon at the weekend too, the striker pulling out because of illness.
His place up front went to Anthony Elding, the loanee having little joy against Crewe’s three central defenders.
“Replacing Stuart Beavon was a tricky one,” said Westley.
“People think it is just a case of one for one, bringing in Elding for Beavon. But we had to change the way we played because there is no direct replacement for Beavon – he’s a certain type of forward.
“We thought about changing one or two things round when we lost him, but it was so late in the day that it would have been difficult to do that.
“I thought Elding worked hard in the first half, we probably allowed him to do too much work up against their back three.
“We sat off them and didn’t put enough pressure on to help Elding up there. I thought it was an even contest up until Crewe scored their first goal.
“Before that we could have gone ahead through John Mousinho and Lee Holmes.
“It was a poor first goal to concede, we can’t hide from that. If you are going to leave midfield runners to escape and as a back four you don’t close around those runners, then you’re at risk of conceding goals.”
Meanwhile, North End face a trip to Coventry City in the JPT Northern Area semi-finals if they can overcome Bury at Gigg Lane in the rearranged quarter-final a week tomorrow.
Their league trip to Crawley Town, postponed from January 5 due to it clashing with the FA Cup tie at Millwall, has been given the new date of Tuesday, January 29.