Preston North End 0 Sheffield United 1 - Match report from Deepdale as PNE lose more ground in the play-off race
Preston North End have it all to do in their quest for a play-off place after losing to Sheffield United at Deepdale.
It was a second defeat on the spin for North End after they had previously put together a 12-game unbeaten run and they are now five points behind sixth-placed Bristol City.
David McGoldrick's 33rd minute goal settled this clash, the striker scoring from close range after PNE goalkeeper Declan Rudd had tipped John Egan's header against the bar.
North End huffed and puffed in terms to creating clear-cut chances.
Callum Robinson's saw a shot pushed behind by United goalkeeper Dean Henderson pushed behind at 0-0.
In the second half as they looked for an equaliser, Lukas Nmecha fired into the side-netting while Robinson wasted a decent opportunity on the counter-attack.
This result effectively leaves North End having to win five of their last six matches if they are to be in with a chance of claiming a play-off berth.
PNE's side had shown two changes to the one beaten at Reading last week.
Ryan Ledson and Alan Browne came back into the starting XI, Paul Gallagher dropping to the bench while Daniel Johnson missed out through injury.
United had the game's first chance, Oliver Norwood's shot from outside the box going straight at Rudd.
In the third minute at the other end, Browne saw a shot blocked in front of goal after Darnell Fisher's cross had found him, Fisher having been played in down the side of the box by Nmecha.
Just after that, Nmecha's cross looked to have found Sean Maguire at the near post but keeper Dean Henderson nicked the ball away from the Irishman with a kicked clearance.
North End's best chance of the first half came in the 17th minute as Browne blocked a pass out of the back from the visitors with the ball breaking into the path of Robinson who took the ball into box.
His angled right-shot across goal was well struck but Henderson got down to palm it behind.
Josh Earl had a decent shout for a penalty turned down when he went down in the box under a challenge, referee Gavin Ward not having the greatest of views and waving play on.
The visitors took the lead in the 33rd minute after North End conceded a slightly unnecessary corner, Jordan Storey nodding the ball behind when perhaps it was going out of play.
Norwood delivered the corner deep beyond the far post, John Egan's looping header tipped against the bar by Rudd.
When the ball came back off the woodwork McGoldrick was first to it and forced the ball over the line from close range.
Three minutes before half-time, Maguire got down the left and pulled the ball back to Robinson in room on the edge of the box.
Robinson shifted the ball on to his right foot and struck a low shot which a defender deflected behind for a corner.
The early stages of the second half saw chances come and go at both ends of the pitch.
In the 47th minute Preston broke on the counter-attack, Maguire feeding a pass to Nmecha who sprinted down the middle before playing in Robinson to the left of him.
Robinson took a touch before shooting left-footed, his shot lacking power and was too close to the keeper who saved.
Six minutes later, the ball rebounded off Storey and broke into the path of Billy Sharp who ran clear on goal.
Rudd stood up to him well though, making himself a big target and blocking the striker's shot at the expense of a corner.
With 56 minutes on the clock, Nmecha's shot on the turn to the left of goal flew just wide and into the side-netting.
Louis Moult, Gallagher and Jayden Stockley were introduced into the action as the second half progressed.
A chance fell Gallagher's way in the 77th minute, Stockley bringing down a high ball and knocking it into Maguire's path.
Maguire's shot was blocked and looped Gallagher's way, his cushioned half-volley clearing the bar.
Three minutes into stoppage-time, Stockley got on the end of a Gallagher corner but put his header wide.
PNE: Rudd, Fisher, Storey, Davies, Earl, Pearson, Ledson (Gallagher 65), Nmecha (Stockley 76), Browne, Robinson (Moult 54), Maguire. Subs (not used): Rafferty, Huntington, Crowe.
United: Henderson, Baldock, Basham, Egan, Stevens, Dowell (Cranie 63), Norwood, Fleck, Duffy (Stearman 78), Sharp (Hogan 83) McGoldrick. Subs (not used): Coutts, Freeman, Washington, Moore.
Referee: Gavin Ward (Surrey)
Attendance: 18,339 (5,577 away)