Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: Why the play-off dream is slipping away

Is this season going to be third time unlucky for Preston North End in terms of missing out on the Championship play-offs?

Friday, 3rd July 2020, 4:45 pm

As things presently stand the odds are against PNE securing a top-six placing unless they can dramatically improve their form and call in a few favours from others.

A week ago they sat sixth in the table, not secure by any means but they were at least up there.

Back-to-back home defeats have changed the landscape considerably, especially with both sides to beat them – Cardiff and Derby – being rivals in the play-off hunt.

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Wayne Rooneys winner for Derby was a body blow to PNEs play-off hopes

Derby especially have found their form just at the right time, while it has all but deserted PNE.

From a straightforward mathematical point of view, all is not lost – four points to make up on the upwardly mobile Rams with six games to do so.

I’m sure Derby will drop points at some stage but that is not really the issue here.

You start solving your own problems first before looking for others to get snookered.

Can a team without a win in the last six games and who have only one victory to their name in eight, suddenly put together a run of success?

We are talking five wins to stand a chance, that would carry PNE to 72 points.

To flip from their current form to the type of winning run needed, would need a Herculean effort.

At his press conference on Thursday to preview the visit to Huddersfield, Neil talked about missing out on the play-offs two years running and the possibility of it happening a third time.

He drew similarities between the last two seasons and indeed this one.

The common theme is that PNE run out of legs, ideas and belief. In 2017/18 they had to play catch-up for quite a while after a couple of iffy spells earlier in the season.

But they got themselves right in play-off contention with eight games left.

Then they lost three on the bounce to Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and Reading.

North End’s recovery was pretty impressive, 13 points taken from the last 15 on offer.

The one draw in that run against Norwich proved costly as they missed out to Derby for sixth – that has a familiar ring.

Last season again saw PNE hit that 39-game mark in good shape.

They won one of the last eight matches, picking up only four points.

Moving to this season, results started to dip slightly earlier – after 35 games.

Some might argue it began happening even before that.

A PNE fan on social media remarked that the team had been ‘atrocious’ since November.

That’s somewhat a harsh view. You could argue it has been downhill all the way since their 24 hours or so at the top of the table after the November 3 win at Charlton.

However, that would be generalising things too much.

Admittedly they had a poor late November into December, before putting together a run of two wins and two draws – the second draw at Leeds on Boxing Day when they led until the 89th minute.

After successive home defeats to Reading and Middlesbrough at the turn of the year, North End went six unbeaten – four wins and two draws.

The 3-0 win at Barnsley and the first hour of the 2-1 victory over Wigan were impressive to say the least.

Stoke were beaten on their own wet and windy patch, then things began to tail off and here we are in July post-lockdown fearing another play-off miss.

A blunt cutting edge is what will ultimately cost them should they finish the wrong side of the line.

Fairly freescoring in the first three months or so of the season, goals haven’t come as frequently since November.

They put five goals past Barnsley at Deepdale in October, netted three times in the games against Wigan, Stoke, Bristol City, Blackburn and Huddersfield.

In the second half of the season there’s been the big win at Barnsley, two goals apiece at Wigan and Stoke.

The statistics from the Derby defeat highlight where PNE’s problem is.

They completed 430 passes, the third highest in the midweek round of matches – Derby completed 350 for the record.

North End’s 13 dribbles was the fourth best in the division on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Possession was 55%-45% in their favour yet they had nothing to show for it.

Brad Potts’ shot from the edge of the box at the end of a Ben Pearson run was the only effort to land on target and it landed comfortably in the keeper’s gloves.

Declan Rudd went as close as anyone to scoring for PNE, popping up in the Derby box for a corner in the last few seconds of time added on.

The keeper was candid enough to admit he was in the box as a giant green distraction to the Rams’ defence, not as Preston’s main aerial threat.

Yet there he was getting his head to Josh Harrop’s corner and sending it just over the bar.

From somewhere PNE need to find a spark, starting at Huddersfield. Neil dropped more than a subtle hint that Harrop was in his thoughts to start over in Yorkshire.

Is it time Billy Bodin got a start, having been limited so far to a few minutes run in stoppage time at Luton?

Scott Sinclair looked so out of sorts against Derby, with David Nugent never getting a sniff up front, once he started staying upright.

Fresh legs, and maybe more importantly, fresh minds are needed.

Just at the moment, the Lilywhites look like they are playing with the weight of the world on them.

Behind-closed-doors football hasn’t come easy to them, but you could say every team are in the same boat.

Some have adapted better than others, indeed those at the bottom end of the Championship table have seen their form take off and it looks like being a real fight to the finish down there.