Even as things started to improve under Frankie McAvoy PNE were still in peril of finishing with an unwanted Deepdale record.
Never in a 46-game season had they finished with less than seven home victories.
With two matches left on home soil, the Lilywhites had five wins to their name.
The odds were against them winning the last two purely on how Deepdale results had gone over the previous eight months.
Credit to them they bucked that trend, beating Derby a week last Tuesday and then Barnsley on Saturday.
North End had to work hard to beat the Tykes who came over the Pennines knowing they were assured of a top-six place.
There was no easing off the gas by Barnsley with one eye on the play-offs.
Their side showed only two changes and they came with an intent to maintain their form heading into the end-of-season knockout.
Yet North End found a way to beat them, scoring from two set-pieces and putting up an impressive rearguard action.
This was a fourth clean sheet on the bounce and a fifth in McAvoy’s seven matches at the helm. ‘Thou shall not pass’ seems to be the motto.
In terms of landing job on a full-time basis, McAvoy is making PNE’s decision either an easy one or damn difficult depending on their way of thinking.
If it’s a case of letting results point the way, it will be an easy decision to scrub the ‘interim’ tag from McAvoy’s title.
However, if North End are wondering if an external appointment is the way to go, how McAvoy is doing will not make that a straight forward decision in the least.
The Scot has never said outright that he wants the job but there is a sense that as the weeks have gone by, he’s grown to want it.
McAvoy has pointed out a few times that in his not his decision to make, that’s for Peter Ridsdale and Trevor Hemmings.
But every time his side have come off the pitch with points in the bag, it has strengthened his position.
McAvoy has one more game of his audition left, at Nottingham Forest next Saturday.
Should PNE come away from the City Ground with something to show for their efforts, the interim’s hand will be strengthened further.
Under McAvoy, North End have put 14 points on the board from seven games.
He’s not just steadied the ship, it’s been turned around.
PNE had been sliding before the decision to made to sack Alex Neil and put his No.2 in charge.
Neil’s last 16 games from January 2 through to March 20 had yielded only 12 points.
It could be argued that the football used by McAvoy hasn’t been the prettiest.
Functional would be the best description and it’s got the best out of the squad which had lost its way since the turn of the year.
A solid back three which becomes a back five is at its core. The midfield both shields and attacks, while two strikers increases the chances of keeping the ball up the pitch.
Jordan Storey and Ched Evans were the men to get their names on the scoresheet and sink Barnsley.
Storey scored six minutes before half-time, Evans four minutes after it.
The opener from Storey was long overdue, his only other Preston goal coming in January 2019.
For Evans, it was his fifth in PNE colours since signing in January.
A corner led to Storey scoring, with a Tom Barkhuizen long throw helping to set up Evans.
Set piece goals haven’t been overly common this season, hence a feeling of satisfaction within the North End camp that two had come off.
Once they got in front, they had plenty of defending to do as Barnsley pushed forward looking for a way back.
The Yorkshire outfit are a powerful and quite direct side, so aren’t easy to deal with.
They’ve shot up the league under Valerien Ismael and later this month will take their chance in the play-offs.
Without doubt Ismael’s men will have to be better than they were on Saturday but they’ll give anyone a run for their money.
Barnsley were the fourth top-six side PNE had faced in McAvoy’s time in charge and the third they’ve taken points off, Brentford the exception and the one fly in the ointment for the interim.
Chances had come at both ends before Storey’s goal in the 39th minute.
The best for North End had been Sepp van den Berg getting behind the visitors’ defence when a Barkhuizen throw came off a Barnsley head – the Dutchman seeing his flicked effort blocked at the near post by the keeper.
At the other end, Conor Chaplin scuffed a shot wide and Michal Helik’s overhead kick from a Callum Brittain long throw brought a save from Daniel Iversen.
The deadlock was broken when Ryan Ledson’s corner from the left dropped into the six-yard box.
There the ball ricocheted off three players before Storey poked a right-foot shot home from five yards.
This was his 17th start on the bounce, consistency at last for the former Exeter man after previously being in and out of the side.
PNE’s other scorer Evans is similarly on a run of starts, Saturday’s his 18th successive appearance in the XI.
The Welshman struck in the 49th minute to settle things nicely after the break.
Barkhuizen’s throw from the left was met by Storey who leapt high to flick it on.
The ball dropped inside the six-yard box where Evans got in front of his marker to sweep a first-time finish past Collins .
There was defending to do at set pieces for North End as they protected the lead.
In the 84th minute Iversen saved well with his legs to keep out substitute Jasper Moon’s shot on the turn.
With decision time looming over the Deepdale manager’s vacancy, this was another audition passed by McAvoy. Time will tell if it was enough.
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