Sheffield United 4-1 Preston North End - Heavy defeat ends PNE's play-off hopes

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Preston North End's season went out with a whimper as their hopes of a play-off place ended with a 4-1 defeat to already promoted Sheffield United.

The Blades were given the lead in the first half thanks to an Anel Ahmedhodžić header from a corner.

PNE managed to get themselves back level in the second half, Liam Delap off the bench to tap home a right wing cross from Brad Potts.

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But it was only a brief glimmer of hope for the visitors, with John Fleck putting them back in the lead and Iliam Ndiaye extending their advantage three minutes later.

Preston North End's Joshua Onomah shields the ball from Sheffield United's Tommy DoylePreston North End's Joshua Onomah shields the ball from Sheffield United's Tommy Doyle
Preston North End's Joshua Onomah shields the ball from Sheffield United's Tommy Doyle

In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Oli McBurnie added a fourth for the Blades as they were far superior on the day.

Ryan Lowe was forced into one change for the game, Ben Whiteman missing out through injury with Ryan Ledson coming in to replace him. Lewis Leigh was named on the bench for a league game for the first time, having made his debut for the club earlier this season in the League Cup.

The Blades made four changes, after they had their promotion confirmed earlier on in the week with a win over West Brom.

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The first shot on target in the game came after nine minutes, Josh Onomah shooting on the turn from the edge of the area but his strike was straight at Wes Foderingham in the Blades goal.

Tommy Doyle had a go for the home side, who were controlling much of the ball, his effort was deflected over after 14 minutes.

Premier League bound United should have had themselves in front after 21 minutes as they broke at pace. A PNE free kick into the Sheffield United box was headed away into the path of Ndiaye who beat Alvaro Fernandez and had a clear run at goal. He opted to lay the ball into the path of James McAtee but Freddie Woodman was out well to smother the chance and make a save with his shoulder.

McAtee had another go at opening the scoring shortly after, his volley from an ambitious angle sailing into the stand behind the goal.

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The game slowed down to exhibition pace, with the home side able to dictate the game and take their time, North End looking off the pace and perhaps the more likely to have been intoxicated through the week.

The home side got the breakthrough on 36 minutes, no less than they deserved. Doyle's outswinging corner from the right headed in off the far post by Ahmedhodžić to give Paul Heckingbottom's men the lead.

It got the tails of the home side up, who went up a gear briefly. Doyle tried his luck from range and his low, skidding strike on the wet surface bounced just before reaching Woodman but was parried away.

Jack Robinson tried to make it two with seven minutes left to go in the half, his low volley fizzing past the post.

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There was a half time change of personnel and shape for the visitors, Delap replacing Jordan Storey and the system switching to 4-3-3.

Just three minutes into the half Tom Cannon was presented with a chance to draw his side level, though one on one with Foderingham he still had to beat the Blades' keeper from a tight angle, seeing his effort into the goalkeeper's chest.

Seconds later, Ledson tried to beat him from range but he couldn't direct the ball on target.

On 50 minutes, United should have had a second. First Ndiaye was was afforded room in the box to get a shot away, which Woodman saved, but with the goalkeeper still on the deck James McAtee followed up and was only denied by Andrew Hughes on the line.

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Ledson again tried to find his range but saw his shot sail high over the bar, after good build up play, on 54 minutes.

Preston got themselves back on level terms just past the hour mark, Delap off the bench to do so. Potts' excellent low cross found the on loan Man City man just a couple of yards out who made no mistake.

The Blades responded though, Ndiaye denied inside the North End box only by an excellent block from Potts at full stretch, 66 minutes in.

The hosts regained control of the game and substitute Sander Berge sent an inviting ball across the six yard box with no takers on 71 minutes, though their second goal was mere seconds away.

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North End were left exposed at the back, pushing to try and find a second goal themselves. Daniel Jebbison, off the bench, carried the ball forward as Heckingbottom's side were two on two. He invited the attention of Patrick Bauer before backheeling the ball into the path of the onrushing Fleck - also on as a sub - who shot for the far corner. Hughes was across to make a block but the ball deflected off him and nestled inside the post.

Three minutes later, it was game over - both on the day and in the context of PNE's season. Once again the Lilywhites were left totally exposed at the back, Jebbison making way down the right wing before centring the ball for the unmarked Ndiaye to tuck the ball home.

With 10 minutes to go North End could have found a way back into the game, Cannon releasing Troy Parrott through on goal. The Irishman had time to steady himself before opening his body up to search for the far corner but Foderingham was down to make the save.

The game faded out in the end, United confident in their victory and North End having little to reply with as the home side were superior on the day.

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One positive before the end of the game for Preston came in the form of an 88th minute substitute. Lewis Leigh replaced Parrott for his league for his boyhood club.

PNE Starting XI: Woodman, Storey (Delap, 45'), Bauer, Hughes, Potts, Ledson (Woodburn, 88'), Johnson, Onomah (McCann, 69'), Fernandez, Cannon, Parrott (Leigh, 88').

PNE subs: Cornell, Lindsay, Slater.Sheffield United Starting XI: Foderingham, Bogle, Basham, Ahmedhodžić, Robinson (Egan, 82'), Lowe, Norwood, Doyle (Berge, 61'), McAtee (Fleck, 69'), Ndiaye (McBurnie, 82'), Sharp (Jebbison, 61').

Sheffield United subs: Davies, Baldock.

Attendance: 30,780