Exclusive Sean Gregan Preston North End column: Building blocks are in place
When someone like Frank Lampard says after the game how well North End played, it is a big pat on the back and an indicator to some of the good things they did on the pitch.
It was a game when they had plenty of the ball and lots of chances.
Those weren’t gilt-edged chances with bad misses or anything like that, more a case of Derby getting their blocks in at the right time and the goalkeeper making a couple of saves.
It was one of those games where Preston just needed that little bit of luck to go their way – a deflection or a refereeing decision.
They did get some good fortune at the other end with Derby hitting the woodwork twice in the first half.
But other than those shots from Harry Wilson, it was North End who looked the more dangerous side.
There is a lot of pressure on Derby to do well with the money they’ve spent over the last few seasons and the fact Lampard is there.
Automatic promotion will be beyond them but they should be able to secure a play-off place and see what that brings them.
As for North End, I still think a play-off place is a step too far – they would have to win most of their games to climb the table.
However, Alex Neil will keep driving them on until the last game of the season and will be determined to finish as high as possible.
It is four games unbeaten now for Preston, which is a decent recovery after the poor form towards the end of December and into January.
They are a team who are capable of putting together some good runs.
Last season they did that, while this term they went nine games unbeaten from early October through to the start of December.
Hopefully this four-game run is the building block for something more substantial.
In the short term, two or three more wins would push them into the top half and then they can take stock from there.
Even if you aren’t going to get in the play-offs, a strong finish to the season can set you up nicely for next term.
North End have a derby clash with Bolton Wanderers on Saturday and that should be a tasty one.
A lot of fans will make the trip to fill the away end and they will be hoping to see a victory.
Bolton have struggled on and off the pitch this season but will be tough opponents as they battle for the points needed to avoid relegation.
It is always with a touch of soreness that I think of games against Bolton.
They beat us in the 2001 play-off final in Cardiff, that win sending them to the Premier League.
You always think, ‘What if?’ when it comes to that final and how things might have been different.
At the time, I just think Bolton had that extra bit of experience which proved so crucial on the day.
Maybe we blew ourselves out in beating Birmingham in the semi-finals?