Alex Neil says Preston will have to earn the right over the next three games to show they are worthy of a play-off place.
PNE face a trio of clubs who are above them in the table in the space of a week, starting with Sheffield United’s visit to Deepdale on Saturday.
They host Leeds United a week tomorrow and then head to West Bromwich for Gentry Day on April 13.
North End boss Neil was hoping to carry an unbeaten run into the trilogy of games but that came an end against Reading.
They were beaten 2-1 at the Madejski Stadium, Jayden Stockley scoring in injury time after two goals in six minutes in the first half had put them on the back foot.
Neil said: “It was a crucial game for us and unfortunately we didn’t win it.
“If we had won it, while it didn’t guarantee anything, it would have made it a little bit easier.
“Even though we lost it we still have a chance to get there but it has made it harder.
“That is where we are at, if we are going to get into the top six we have to earn that right.
“That is something we have to do no matter who you play.
“The next three games are really important in terms of being deserving of getting in that top six.”
North End slipped back to 10th place, two points behind Derby County in sixth, who have a game in hand.
A concern for Neil from the game were hamstring injuries picked up by Brandon Barker and Ben Pearson.
Barker’s appears to be the more serious of the two, the winger pulling up 11 minutes after he had come on as a half-time substitute.
For Pearson, Neil reported that his injury was more of a tightening of the muscle.
The midfielder could be seen to be flexing his leg at regular intervals in the second half and he did not finish the game, Neil deciding to bring him off despite that putting PNE down to 10 men.
It was with a man fewer that they scored their consolation goal in the 93rd minute.
Said Neil: “We’d made two aggressive subs at half-time but quickly lost Brandon.
“When he came off it meant we’d lost most of our runners for the game with Alan Browne, Brad Potts and Tom Barkhuizen all out.
“They are guys who stretch the game and have really good legs to get in the game.
“Going forward we huffed and puffed without creating a lot of chances.
“The best one fell to Paul Gallagher on his right foot and those normally end up in the back of the net.
“When Reading were 2-0 up they sunk in and let us have possession.
“We played quite nicely in front of them but didn’t really get in behind their defence to hurt them.”