PNE must learn to see out games

Scott Laird says North End must be more ruthless
Scott Laird says North End must be more ruthless
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Scott Laird says that Preston North End’s automatic promotion hopes hinge on cutting out the habit of failing to put games to bed from a winning position.

Stevenage’s stoppage-time equaliser against them in midweek was the fifth time this season that North End had conceded in the last few minutes of games to turn wins into draws.

Coventry twice scored in time added on in their two league meetings with PNE, while Crawley netted a 90th-minute equaliser in December, and Rotherham levelled in the 89th minute to clinch a 3-3 draw at Deepdale last month.

Left wing-back Laird admitted that the visitors’ dressing room was a frustrated place in the aftermath of the Stevenage draw on Tuesday.

North End had led from the 16th minute through Tom Clarke’s sixth goal of the campaign.

But after a couple of late close calls, the defence cracked in the 91st minute when Jimmy Smith drilled home Boro’s leveller.

Laird told the Evening Post: “We are an honest bunch of lads and are always looking to score that next goal.

“You have to play the game though, manage it better in certain circumstances.

“I don’t mean by cheating or doing the wrong things but by putting the ball in the corner, winning throw-ins in the final third, pressing the ball so that you box your opponents into their own half.

“We let Stevenage get those extra yards by dropping too far off the game. For 80 minutes we put in a good performance and then in the last 10 minutes gave them the impetus to get back into the game and have a few opportunities.

“We have done that quite a lot this season, which is disappointing.

“We could be right in the mix now had we held on to leads a few more times, and it is something we really need to do better between now and the end of the season.

“Ideally, we want to get bigger leads and put teams to the sword so that we are two, three or four goals up, rather than hanging on to a one-goal lead.”

North End’s next game is on Monday night against Sheffield United at Deepdale.

The FA Cup semi-finalists have shot up the League One table in recent weeks, Nigel Clough turning their fortunes around after getting settled into the Blades manager’s job.

Said Laird: “It is a very big game under the lights at Deepdale, and the night home games are special when the crowd get going.

“Sheffield United have got themselves on a good run and sometimes that happens after a change of manager.

“Look at the gaffer here – he has come in and changed the place in the last year or so.

“I think we have only lost seven games in the league since he arrived.

“We have to build on that, keep the unbeaten run going but start turning some of those draws into wins.

“Over the next few weeks we will aim to put as many points on the board as possible.

“Automatic promotion is still there – we won’t give up on that.”