Alex Neil’s pride as PNE take it down to a nail-biting finale

Alex Neil is proud that Preston have taken their push for the play-offs down to the wire.

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Matchwinner Alan Browne gives the PNE fans the thumbs-up at Sheffield United

Matchwinner Alan Browne gives the PNE fans the thumbs-up at Sheffield United

It is now a straight fight between the Lilywhites and Derby for sixth place, with both hosting teams who need points in the battle to avoid relegation on the final day.

Neil’s men face Burton at Deepdale on Sunday (12.30pm) with Derby playing Barnsley.

Although the Rams are in pole position with a two-point advantage over PNE, there could yet be plenty of twists and turns on the final day.

North End’s 1-0 victory at Sheffield United saw them jump two places to seventh, while defeats for Brentford and Millwall took them out of the play-off equations.

Bristol City’s goalless draw with Nottingham Forest saw their top-six hopes end, while the Blades’ defeat to Neil’s men meant they came up short. It will seem a long build-up to Sunday lunchtime’s clash but Neil is confident his side can deal with that.

“We did our job by beating Sheffield United and the aim was to take it down to the last game,” said Neil.

“The players will be fine this week, they will have some time off and training before building up to playing Burton.

“There won’t be any issues as far as we are concerned.

“The pressure and fear of maybe losing and not getting in the play-offs might go into other teams, it certainly won’t be in our camp.”

PNE had to battle and fight for their win at Bramall Lane, a 57th-minute goal from Alan Browne settling the contest.

He pounced from six yards after a shot from Josh Harrop had been spilled by Blades keeper Jamal Blackman.

In the closing stages as the hosts looked for a way back into the game, North End ran down the clock and slowed the game, to the annoyance of the United supporters. Said Neil: “People might think we 
practice the dark arts but 
having such a young team they take it upon themselves to try and see the game out, kill time.

“I have been on the other side of it when you are shouting and wanting to get the game started.

“When you are hanging on to a lead, I think every team in this division does it.

“This game was one we had to manage to get a result out of and we did hang on, which was the aim.

“Sheffield United put us under a lot of pressure with a lot of cut-backs and a lot of crosses into the box.

“When we put Tom Clarke on we had three centre-backs across the back.

“Bear in mind that Greg Cunningham is a defensive left-back and Darnell Fisher 
is a defensive right-back, we had a bank of five making sure we weren’t going to be breached.

“All the lads at the back did their jobs really well. It was a hard game as we expected.”