Alex Neil felt Preston’s goalless draw against Millwall was an opportunity missed in terms of strengthening their hand in the Championship’s upper reaches.
Josh Harrop squandered a golden chance after half-time when he failed to convert a Tom Barkhuizen cross right in front of goal.
From then on, PNE toiled against a stubborn Millwall side and in the closing stages had to be wary of being caught on the counter-attack.
Neil did not go down the ‘one of those games’ excuse route when assessing what he had seen.
The North End manager said: “If you want to be at the top end of the table, you can’t use that excuse.
“You have to go and win games like that.
“This was the type of game you win 1-0 and move on.
“Last season Huddersfield got promoted after winning 1-0 18 times.
“Had we taken the chance we would all have gone away thinking it was a great three points because we hadn’t been free-flowing.
“Millwall didn’t have a chance which I thought they should have scored from, but we had that opportunity where everyone thought we should have scored.”
It was the first 0-0 draw at Deepdale for 10 months, North End having scored in all 19 home games since.
The failure to stretch that run to 20 was frustrating for Neil but it did at least put a point on the board.
Said Neil: “We are a young team and I think that we have improved considerably from the start of the season to now.
“This game was a different type of test because in most games so far we had arguably been the underdog.
“Here there was the weight of expectation from everyone connected with Preston as we are all talking about having a special group of players.
“They now have to take that burden on their shoulders and still perform under pressure, certainly at home.
“We knew Millwall would come and make it difficult and credit to them for doing that.
“They probably had the thought process which we had against Reading and Sheffield Wednesday, one where if you think you are better than us, let’s find out by going toe-to-toe with them.”
Neil was not impressed with referee Darren Bond who did not allow the play to flow.
“I never comment on the referee but I thought the game was disrupted from the start to the end,” said Neil.
“It never got the chance to flow, that probably contributed to how the game was played.
“The game was bitty and everyone would have gone home thinking, ‘How much entertainment did I get out of that?’. I think the referee contributed to that.”