Preston slipped to back-to-back defeats over Easter as play-off rivals Derby took all three points at Deepdale on Monday.
Alan Browne missed a penalty late in the first half before Tom Lawrence’s 30-yard free-kick proved too good for Chris Maxwell eight minutes into the second half.
Browny is human
Alan Browne has had an excellent, breakthrough season under Alex Neil. Having stepped up as a penalty taker and scored twice from the spot this season there was stunned silence when he dragged this effort wide. Neil was bullish in his defence of one of his key men post-match, Paul Gallagher also singing the Irishman’s praises. He had a good game otherwise with this a rare low point in a coming-of-age season.
Goalkeeper situation far from clear
Chris Maxwell was back in for Declan Rudd against Derby. It’s a funny situation in that Maxwell only first returned at Sunderland due to the birth of Rudd’s son, keeping a clean sheet before going to China with Wales. Rudd was back in the 4-1 defeat against Sheffield Wednesday but was out again on Easter Monday. “I don’t think Chris should get beaten from that distance,” was Neil’s verdict of Tom Lawrence’s free-kick getting the better of Maxwell from nearly 30 yards. Will there be another change at Reading this weekend?
Possession doesn’t win prizes
Sixty-four per cent of the ball and 19 shots to two ultimately counted for nothing on Monday. It meant that yet again post match the talk turned to Preston’s performance in the final third. “Clinical edge” and “little bit of quality” are phrases we’ve heard over and over again from Neil post-match this season. It was on show again against Derby as plenty of promising play ultimately came to nothing, the best chances in the second half coming from balls into the box that broke for first Paul Huntington and then Paul Gallagher.
Home form could prove costly
It all added up to a third defeat in PNE’s last four games at Deepdale. With plenty of draws in more winnable games earlier in the campaign too it is home form that could be looked back on with a rueful glance come May 6. Further to the previous point, there’s a variety of reasons for North End's struggles, most importantly that Neil’s men just look better suited to playing on the road and hitting teams on the break. Derby were resolute and produced something of a Ram raid, scoring with their only shot on target.
All is still not lost though
All that being said it isn’t game over when it comes to PNE’s play-off push. Two defeats over Easter weekend has only seen the gap to sixth extend by one point to three. It's a missed opportunity rather than the end of the road. Yes, the Lilywhites are probably the outsiders back in 10th, but with sides having to play each other and 18 points still to fight for, few would bet against more twists and turns in the final six games of the season.