John Roper’s Preston North End fans’ panel verdict: Same old story as play-off dream fades

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The pain goes on and on and on for North End with yet another home reverse, this time at the hands of much improved Derby County.

A trademark free-kick from Wayne Rooney was the difference between the two teams as PNE only really looked like they might have a chance of scoring in the last 10 minutes of the game.

The first half had been a woeful; display in all honesty with no width on the pitch, lightweight in midfield and generally being second best to a decent but not outstanding Derby side.

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In the second half we certainly upped the possession but our build-up was painfully slow and the visitors just sat back and waited for us to come at them.

Preston North End's Alan Browne battles with Derby County's Matthew ClarkePreston North End's Alan Browne battles with Derby County's Matthew Clarke
Preston North End's Alan Browne battles with Derby County's Matthew Clarke

When we did we could not make that final telling pass once again and though we flattered to deceive a little late on I thought the Rams were the better side and probably deserved the points.

Alex Neil made five changes to the side that lost 3-1 to Cardiff on Saturday and if I am honest I’m not sure any of them made a great deal of difference.

Nugent tried hard but the years are telling on one of North End’s favourite sons of the last 15 years and better use would be made of his talents from the bench.

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Sinclair, who arrived with a real fanfare, was absolutely anonymous for the time he was on the field and although I would never accuse a player of not being interested, he showed little stomach for the fight.

Huntington came back at centre-half but conceded an unfortunate free-kick a few yards outside of the box, only for Rooney to strike a sweet curling shot into the far corner of the net past the rooted Rudd.

We tried to get forward but it just wasn’t happening for us and for those who have watched the recent decline on the field, it was very much a case of the same old, same old.

At half time I was fearing that the visitors were going to add to their total as we had not really been in the game, but to be fair to North End once we had settled down we made a better fist of it after the break.

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We kept possession better and when Maguire, Barkhuizen and Harrop came on at least we had a little more get up and go in the side ,with Maguire trying to carve something out up front.

The stats will show that we only had one shot on target all of the game and therein lies the problem.

We are desperately short of a goalscorer of any note because it is just not happening for the current strikers at the club.

As the clock ticked round we finally started to apply some pressure to the Derby defence but after getting in good positions, we could not play that final defence-splitting pass that might just have brought us a point and kept us in touch with the play-offs.

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These players haven’t turned into bad players overnight but we had a few in from the start who would struggle to get in any top-six side in the Championship. We have lost confidence out on the field and for the first time in his tenure at Deepdale I think the manager has run out of ideas and just keeps juggling the pack until a winning formula appears.

One win and one draw from the last eight games is absolutely relegation form and the way things are going I would be happy with a top-10 finish at this moment in time.

Nevertheless, there are still six games to go but we are fast approaching the “have to win ’em all” moment.

Perhaps five wins and a draw might see us creep in but can anybody see us turning this around the way we are playing?

However, it’s onwards and upwards to Huddersfield on Saturday where just maybe we can end this wretched run and start a final sprint to the line. I won’t hold my breath!