Sean Gregan’s exclusive Preston North End column

Preston North End's Greg Cunningham crosses despite the attentions of Reading's Leandro Bacuna
Preston North End's Greg Cunningham crosses despite the attentions of Reading's Leandro Bacuna

Preston’s play-off fortunes have taken a big hit with three defeats on the bounce.

With a six point gap to bridge in five games, I would say that their top-six hopes are over for this season, bar a huge about-turn in fortune.

Although North End could easily find their form again and pick up some good results, it is expecting a lot for all the teams above them to have a dip.

Some of the teams above are playing one another over the next few weeks and that means points will be dropped somewhere.

But to climb above five teams with five games left would need a massive swing.

You wouldn’t expect five teams to suddenly lose their form – one or two maybe but not all five.

While there is still hope mathematically, Alex Neil won’t have given up on the top six.

He will be demanding standards be kept up both in matches and in training.

It is frustrating for Neil, the players and the Preston supporters that results have tailed-off this last week.

Before the international break they were going along nicely and had only lost three games in 20 – or something similar to that.

So to then lose three on the bounce has done a great deal of damage and shows what a run of results either way can do.

Just think if North End had won three on the spin, they’d be in such a strong position.

What they have to avoid now is allowing the season to drift out.

For the players, it will feel like a kick-in-the-you-know where that the play-offs are looking beyond reach.

But they have five games to play and have to keep up a good level of performance.

Last year, the season really did limp to a finish although North End were never as close to the play-offs then that they have been until recently.

Hopefully we won’t see the next few weeks go down a similar line.

It’s Leeds next for North End on Tuesday night under the lights at Deepdale.

Leeds are a couple of places below them in the table and the season has been a disappointing one at Elland Road after a decent start which saw them top of the table early doors.

It should still be a decent game, I think a bit of rivalry remains from the days when the clubs met in the play-offs.

If PNE can get themselves back to winning ways, it will set them up nicely for the trip to Queens Park Rangers next Saturday.

At the same time Preston are playing Leeds, the second leg of the Champions League tie between Manchester City and Liverpool will be taking place at the Etihad Stadium.

Liverpool are obviously in the box seat having played so well to win the first leg 3-0.

City aren’t a team who you can write-off, even if turning round such a deficit without the benefit of an away goal is going to be very tough.

If City score in the first 10 minutes then it’s game on and it could be an interesting night. But if Liverpool get to half-time without conceding, they should be fine.