For the first time under Ryan Lowe’s stewardship, the Lilywhites have suffered back-to-back defeats and it’s three games without a goal.
Emil Riis’ late winner against Bournemouth a month ago was the last time they found the net, with the wider picture being one victory in the last seven.
There are seven matches left to arrest the slide, starting with Tuesday night’s big derby against Blackpool – ‘big’ perhaps a word which doesn’t do the importance of the occasion to North End supporters justice.
In terms of league position, the next few weeks will be about jockeying for position in mid-table. The derby is about so much more though, righting the wrongs of a dismal performance at Bloomfield Road last October for starters.
There’s local pride at stake to be decided by the contest on the grass rather than bickering on social media over ticket sales.
If PNE are going to come out on the right side, they will have to play much better than they did against Derby County on Saturday.
They lost a scrappy Pride Park encounter to an 80th minute goal from Rams substitute Ravel Morrison, a player used from the bench after playing three games for Jamaica during the international break.
Morrison being voted man of the man for 22 minutes work was a pointer to the quality, or rather a lack of it, from both sides before the tempo was raised a few notches late on.
Derby could be justified in saying it was a deserved winner in that the better bits of play came from them and they had much the better chances in the contest.
Daniel Iversen kept it down to 1-0 with some smart goalkeeping, if anyone didn’t deserve to be on the losing side, it was PNE’s Danish keeper.
At the other end, the visitors put only one of their 12 efforts on target, that a first-half header from Liam Lindsay which didn’t exactly stretch Ryan Allsop between the Derby sticks.
To coin a phrase from Rams manager Wayne Rooney, it was quite a strange game, certainly in terms of numerical balance.
For 32 minutes this was a game of 11 v 11 until a red card for Lindsay, sent-off for bundling Tom Lawrence over to deny him a goalscoring opportunity.
The next 23 minutes were played 11 v 10 before things evened out for the last 35 minutes when Max Bird was dismissed for a forceful challenge on Ben Whiteman.
Dare I say that North End looked quite comfortable when a man down, Derby seeming to find an extra spark after Bird’s red card to go on and find their winner.
Neither red could be argued against, Lindsay having allowed Lawrence to get the wrong side of him in a chase for a pass before stumbling into the back of him as he tried to recover.
It is true that two of the Scot’s team-mates were able to get back into the box but neither would have got to Lawrence in time to stop him shooting.
Bird’s tackle on Whiteman wasn’t good, his leading foot catching Whiteman quite high on the shin pad while the challenge had far too much force in it for what was actually required.
Unnecessary would be a good description for it, the tackle made near the centre-circle when Whiteman getting there first would have resulted in little immediate danger to Derby.
Having coped comfortably with being a man down for the 23 minutes between Lindsay and Bird’s early baths, how disappointing that PNE were undone when the numbers were evened out.
I mentioned the tendency for results to slow down in the closing stages of the season and that’s been the case for four of the previous six campaigns in the Championship.
In 2015/16 Preston won two of their last eight games, the following season it was one victory from the last eight.
The trend was bucked somewhat in 2017/18 when they won four and drew one of the last five.
In 2018/19 North End had one win in the last eight and they won two of nine of the re-start games in the extended 2019/20 season.
Last season saw a much stronger finish, five wins, two draws and a single loss in the last eight.
Lowe went for a change of formation at Derby, opting for a 4-3-3.
It meant a rare start at right-back for Joe Rafferty, with the recalled Pat Bauer and Lindsay in the middle and Andrew Hughes at left-back.
Across the front were Ched Evans, Emil Riis and Cameron Archer, Evans the central point of that trio.
The experiment lasted until Lindsay’s red card, Lowe switching to 3-4-2 with Riis sacrificed to allow Sepp van den Berg to come off the bench.
They contained Derby quite well in that shape and opportunity should have knocked when Bird flew into Whiteman causing referee Geoff Eltringham to reach into his back pocket for the red card.
Derby’s winner was avoidable from PNE’s perspective, Iversen having made a good save to push Lawrence’s shot behind after seeing it late.
Lawrence sent over the corner which Curtis Davies met in the air at the far post. Iversen parried his downward header on the line and blocked Luke Plange’s follow-up.
Alan Browne’s attempt to clear the loose ball bounced off Davies’ chest and into the path of Morrison who volleyed home from 12 yards.
It goes without saying that things must be better on Tuesday evening.