Five things we learned: Sheffield United 0-1 Preston North End

Josh Harrop evades a challenge from John Fleck at Bramall Lane
Josh Harrop evades a challenge from John Fleck at Bramall Lane
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Alan Browne’s second-half goal means Preston North End’s play-off bid will go down to the final day.

ALSO READ: Dave Seddon’s PNE verdict - ‘Baluga’ Browne’s the toast of the town!
Alan Browne’s second-half goal means Preston North End’s play-off bid will go down to the final day.

Man of the moment Alan Browne comes under pressure

Man of the moment Alan Browne comes under pressure

This team never gives up

Preston have played some excellent football under Alex Neil this season and he picked a team on Saturday designed to blow a game open that both sides needed to win. This for large parts though was a bitty battle where PNE needed to show a different side of their game. The first half was instantly forgettable with North End then crucially getting their noses in front just before the hour mark. From then on they showed real character to come away with three points that keeps their season alive until the final whistle of game 46. Just when the play-off bid looks to be in terminal decline PNE drag it back and in the closing stages lesser sides would have folded. But drive, determination and a real togetherness have been features of Preston under Neil.

The final day could be a thriller

It may be going down to the wire but PNE are still after a favour. If they do the business against Burton at Deepdale on Sunday they will need Barnsley to win at Derby. The way the fixture computer has come together is quite something really. Not only are North End and the Rams top six rivals but Burton are in the final relegation place in 22nd with Barnsley only above them on goal difference. Elsewhere, Cardiff, in pole position for automatic promotion host another relegation-threatened side in Reading. Third-placed Fulham travel to the other side who could go down in Birmingham. Bonkers.

Greg Cunningham celebrates victory at the final whistle

Greg Cunningham celebrates victory at the final whistle

Harrop deserved his chance

Fans have been calling for it for some time and Josh Harrop was handed his first start since January at Bramall Lane. It was an attacking line-up and seemed to suit the former Manchester United man down to the ground. It wasn’t quite the free-flowing, end-to-end encounter many expected but Harrop still made his mark. He’s always busy on the ball and looking to make something happen. Crucially, he can be credited with being the architect of the winner as it was his swerving effort that was palmed by Jamal Blackman into the path of Browne on 57 minutes. There’s no doubting how much potential he has and the 22-year-old should keep his place on the final day.

Browne can do little wrong

The rise and rise of Alan Browne continues. The ‘boy from Baluga’ notched his ninth of the campaign on Saturday which is more than in all his previous seasons with North End combined. It leaves him just one shy of Sean Maguire at the top of charts, remarkable considering his didn’t score at all last season. This was a different type of goal, Browne sniffing out an opportunity and beating everyone else to the punch. If he does help lead PNE to the unthinkable, we all know where the promotion party will be, don’t we?

Cunningham is a leader

Despite the headlines elsewhere, captain for the day Greg Cunningham was arguably PNE’s man of the match. The Irishman taking a shot in the face from John Fleck in the first half summed up North End’s defensive efforts on the day. There was block after block from the left back and a couple of fine defensive headers as well. Tom Clarke took the armband when he came off the bench and was also typically resolute while Darnell Fisher had his best game for some time. Paul Huntington was well, Paul Huntington, with Ben Davies growing into things after a shaky start. Defending seems to going out of fashion in some quarters but it’s something to celebrate that it certainly hasn’t at Deepdale.