Dave Seddon's big match verdict
Mathematically the play-offs are not yet gone for Preston but in reality there is now a gathering around the bedside awaiting the final breath.
In the aftermath of defeat to Leeds, the Lilywhites fell six points behind sixth place with five games to go.
By the time 827 travelling PNE fans neared journeys end on the trip home, the gap had stretched to eight points as Sheffield Wednesday beat Newcastle in the late kick-off.
That is a mountain to climb wearing trainers, it is not going to happen and the job over the next five matches is finishing on a high – and as high up the table as possible.
To have retained a realistic interest in the play-offs until the final four weeks of the campaign is of real credit to North End.
There will be a time and a place to analyse things more closely, in terms of the poor start to the season which meant they played catch-up and then, where points were lost along the way.
But the progress made by them since September is there to see, the team evolving into one containing pace aplenty and goals.
They are a different beast to last term’s sturdy if slightly unspectacular outfit.
Opening up their play in an attacking sense – they have scored 59 goals compared to 45 last year – has left North End a bit more susceptible at the back.
The three goals shipped at Leeds took the ‘goals against’ column to 51 – it was 45 in 2015/16.
Defensive mistakes were at the root of this loss, the three centre-backs all having to hold their hand up for errors in the build-up to the three goals.
Tom Clarke lost the runner for the first, Alex Baptiste did not cut out the through ball for the second, a mistake which Paul Huntington repeated in stoppage time for the third.
Baptiste’s afternoon was to end prematurely, sent off four minutes from time for a kick out at Pablo Hernandez.
He was in the dressing room when the third goal went in, the red card extinguishing any late fight Preston had left in them.
To load all the blame on to the back three would be rather unjust, with gilt-edged chances missed at the other end.
At 0-0, Tom Barkhuizen twice had the opportunity to silence the Elland Road hordes.
When PNE trailed 2-0, a Barkhuizen effort came back off the bar – how that might have change the pattern is anyone’s guess.
The flip side is that at least he got in the positions to have those chances and that PNE’s creative side was operating to a point.
The shot count in the game was 15-all, with both sides putting six on target.
Leeds were ruthless it could be said, aided by the questionable defending from the visitors.
It had been a similar picture in the reverse game at Deepdale on Boxing Day.
The Yorkshiremen on both occasions were just a bit too powerful for North End.
In doing so, they became only the second side to do the double over PNE, following in the footsteps of Fulham.
A quirk in the tale is that Leeds’ three scorers on Saturday also found the net at Deepdale.
In both games, North End stopped the league’s top scorer Chris Wood from finding the net, but not so with Kemar Roofe, Hernandez and Souleymane Doukara.
From a play-off point of view, Simon Grayson’s men knew that their hopes hinged on April’s away days.
Leeds was the first, with Huddersfield on Good Friday and then Newcastle.
The odds were against PNE by reason of them being without a win on their travels since January 2.
Defeat on the other side of the Pennines stretched their win-less run on the road to an eighth game.
They were without Jordan Hugill for this one, a clash of heads in last Tuesday night’s 5-0 thrashing of Bristol City leaving him concussed and hence left at home.
Grayson replaced him in the starting XI with Marnick Vermijl, switching to 3-4-1-2 to accommodate the change.
I read social media posts pre-match that Hugill would not be missed, the reasoning behind that being no goals for him since February 25.
They did miss him, they missed his hold-up play and ability to create the space for others to operate in.
Against Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson, two grippers at the heart of Leeds’ back four, Hugill would have been ideal.
It was down to Barkhuizen and Callum Robinson to find holes in and around Bartley and Jansson.
Barkhuizen managed that, Robinson not quite so on what was a frustrating afternoon.
Vermijl in the wing-back slot did not work, the Belgian looking off the pace in his first game after hernia surgery.
The 3-4-1-2 turned into a 4-3-3 when Daniel Johnson replaced Vermijl.
North End went 4-4-2 when Simon Makienok and Jermaine Beckford joined the action in a double change.
They had started with a flourish, 78 seconds played when Vermijl stood up a cross for Barkhuizen.
Had his header gone either side of Robert Green, it would have been a goal. However, the effort was above Green, who tipped it over the bar.
Barkhuizen latched on to Greg Cunningham’s pass to get clear in the 13th minute, his shot beating Green but going inches wide of the far post.
Leeds capitalised on those let-offs, ROOFE exchanging passes with Wood which drew in Clarke and gave him a free run into the box.
As he shot, Cunningham slid across to block, the ball looping over Chris Maxwell.
Roofe’s 45th-minute pass from the centre-circle should have been cut out by Baptiste, however it rolled past him and HERNANDEZ poked a shot past Maxwell who had dashed to the edge of his box.
Wood hit the bar in the 55th minute, then Barkhuizen did likewise, his shot after Aiden McGeady’s effort was parried perhaps clipping Green’s leg.
Baptiste saw red for putting his foot towards Hernandez who was on the floor.
The last nail in the coffin came when Huntington missed a ball down the right channel, DOUKARA going clear and tucking a low shot past Maxwell.
Chris Maxwell 6
Not given much protection by his defence, unlucky for the first goal but perhaps too quick to dash to the edge of the box for the second.
Tom Clarke 6
Lost the run of Roofe for the first goal. Unlike against Forest a week earlier, the three-man defence did not suit Clarke or PNE.
Paul Huntington 6
Failed to cut out the through ball for Leeds’ third goal. Not the happiest of returns to Elland Road for the ex-United defender.
Alex Baptiste 5
An afternoon to forget for the defender as his mistake led to the second goal and then he was sent off for kicking out at Hernandez late on.
Marnick Vermijl 5
The Belgian’s first game back after hernia surgery and he looked rusty in the right wing-back role. Subbed after an hour.
Ben Pearson 7
North End’s best performer, he tried to drive PNE on from midfield and kept them ticking. Made a clearance off the line.
Paul Gallagher 6
Some good touches in the first half and put in a couple of deliveries before fading out of the game in the second period.
Greg Cunningham 7
Got forward well in the early stages, his pass sending Barkhuizen clear. Up against a tricky customer in Roofe.
Aiden McGeady 6
The hosts limited his affect on the contest although he had his moments. Forced a good second-half save out of Green.
Tom Barkkhuizen 7
Had North End’s three best chances and should have been on the scoresheet. Carried PNE’s biggest attacking threat.
Callum Robinson 6
Struggled to get into the game in areas to hurt Leeds. Effort was there but the home defenders proved tough opponents.
Daniel Johnson 6
A 61st-minute replacement for Vermijl, DJ’s arrival saw Preston revert to four at the back. Did not make a huge impact.
Simon Makienok 6
Gave PNE’s attack a different dimension when he joined the action with 20 minutes left. Got himself in the thick of the action.
Jermaine Beckford 6
Was the other part of the double change with Makienok. Better than of late but things just have not happened for him this season.
Subs not used:
Daryl Horgan, Alan Browne, Tommy Spurr, Anders Lindegaard.
LEEDS UNITED: Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi, Vieira, Phillips, Roofe (Dallas 70), Hernandez (Taylor 89), Pedraza, Wood (Doukara 79). Subs (not used): O’Kane, Barrow, Coyle, Peacock-Farrell.
ATTENDANCE: 31,851 (827 PNE)