Preston North End verdict - Ryan Lowe quotes are damning and it's about time PNE challenged properly

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Preston North End's chase for a play-off place came to a resounding end on Saturday as they were beaten 4-1 by Sheffield United.

In truth, given that they have only ended one weekend in a play-off place all season, finishing their campaign amongst the top six was unlikely at best.

But of course, it is the hope that kills you and PNE fans will be used to having their hopes dashed – especially when it comes to tasting Premier League football.

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On the day, they were a clear second best to the second best team in the division. The Blades have been a clear cut above all but Burnley in the Championship this term and their quality was evident even after making four changes.

Preston North End's Daniel Johnson reacts after his side conceded a third goal scored by Sheffield United's Iliman NdiayePreston North End's Daniel Johnson reacts after his side conceded a third goal scored by Sheffield United's Iliman Ndiaye
Preston North End's Daniel Johnson reacts after his side conceded a third goal scored by Sheffield United's Iliman Ndiaye

Anel Ahmedhodžić headed Paul Heckingbottom's side into the lead in the first half, with a little help from the inside of the post, but it was less than the Yorkshire side deserved. They came out in the second half and were pegged back.

Ryan Lowe made a switch at the break, Jordan Storey sacrificed for Liam Delap to go 4-3-3 and it was the on loan Man City striker that got Preston parity. He was in the right place to turn Brad Potts' low cross into the back of the net from close range – two of PNE's better performers on the day linking up for the former's first goal for the club.

United restored their lead, however, with an incisive breakaway. North End were left utterly exposed on multiple occasions and were duly punished by a good side and good players. Daniel Jebbison's backheel was picked up by John Fleck on the break and he found the back of the net. Three minutes later Jebbison this time found Iliman Ndiaye who made it three.

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With seven minutes added on at the end of the game, there was time for a fourth. Five minutes beyond the 90 minutes, Oli McBurnie volleyed the ball into the back of the net from close range.

United were promoted on Wednesday, they saw off West Bromwich Albion which meant they were up. They spent the next few days celebrating, barely even training on Friday and not even knowing the team until late on in the day. Going off Saturday's game, it was hard to tell which side had been a bit worse for wear this week.

Preston were laboured, they were off the pace, they were sloppy on the ball – they were beaten before they even got going.

They didn't look like a side that believed they could beat the Blades.

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In theory, it was the perfect time to play them. They had spent the back end of the week celebrating their promotion.

It was North End that looked like the men going through the motions. The scoreline did not flatter United and had they turned it on at any point it could have been more.

Switching to four at the back, perhaps, gave PNE their goal by having more bodies in the box but it mainly served to leave them more exposed at the back and the quality the Blades have them pay.

Away from the pitch however, Lowe made headlines as he gave a scathing post-match assessment of what he had seen.

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He questioned the mentality of his players, their future, and his future.

It was captivating viewing and listening as the North End boss opened up about how he felt over the club’s current situation – and seemed as mad about the play-off failure as many Preston fans will be.

The likes of Coventry, Luton and Millwall were all referenced as an example that reaching the play-offs can be done, though he cited their big spends as a difference maker compared to PNE.

He isn’t wrong on that front, Preston barely ever break seven figures for a player. It’s almost like having one hand tied behind their back in the transfer market.

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If Lowe does not get reassurances this summer, on a clear plan and way forward, he might consider his future. At least, that is the impression he gave post match.

PNE have a big summer ahead, that’s no secret, but with the manager now questioning his players and the direction the club is going in, whether the ambitions match his own, it takes things up a notch.

He spoke like a man determined to succeed and his demeanour was one that you would trust the rebuild with, he seemed like he knew what was needed.

Whether he has enough to work with, we shall see. Whether he learns lessons from this season, regards players and tactics will all become clear.

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It is likely emotions are still raw on the back of a hugely disappointing end to the campaign.

Too many times we have seen Preston sides come close to the top six, too many times other teams have spent that little bit extra to get them over the line.

Now, if the manager is prepared to come out and question the planning and the direction, it could be time to truly take stock.

It’s a very sad thought to admit, but looking onto the pitch at Bramall Lane with a ‘promoted’ sign and medals ready to be handed out, I just can’t ever see it happening at Deepdale.

That shouldn’t be the case. There should always be a chance of getting in the play-offs and this summer has to be the start of changing that mindset.