A tale of two derbies for PNE
This month's two local derby games for Preston North End brought contrasting results, so too contrasting reactions to them.
The 2-1 victory at Blackburn on April 2 is rightly regarded as the highest point of what has been a very good season.
That lunchtime at Ewood Park, they were the best thing since sliced bread, with the talk being of a late run towards the play-offs.
Results have slipped since then and North End will head to Reading on the penultimate Saturday of the season having not won for five games.
But bar the second-half show against MK Dons, have performance levels really dropped off?
I would suggest not to any great degree, and there are times when you have to accept a team were better than you.
Unfortunately, that was the case against Burnley on Friday night, a side with automatic promotion in their sights.
However, there were some critical fingers pointed at PNE in the wake of the 1-0 loss.
They were not at their very best but neither was the defeat down to a lack of effort.
That effort was clearly there but what was lacking was the necessary quality in and around the Burnley box.
How often did a cross or pass not beat the first man?
Clarets keeper Tom Heaton was only stretched the once, by Daniel Johnson’s 70th-minute shot after good hold-up play from Jermaine Beckford.
What Friday night showed was the standard needed at the top of the Championship.
In terms of organisation, I felt Burnley looked the best side to have visited Deepdale this season.
Solid, uncompromising and an ability to stay in shape or quickly drop back into it, were the hallmarks of their performance.
North End gave it a go and remember, it was a nervous last few minutes for Burnley.
Trust me, the very vocal Burnley commentators sat a few seats down from me in the press box were somewhat pale-faced in the wake of the 95th-minute shot from Callum Robinson which disappeared inches over the bar!
Don’t use the loss to the Clarets as a stick to beat North End with.
Here was a team 21 league games unbeaten, one which is striding confidently towards their goal of a return to the Premier League.
Yes, it is disappointing to lose any game, especially a derby in front of the TV cameras.
You could put Friday night’s reverse in the same bracket as what happened a fortnight earlier at Middlesbrough.
To challenge for the top two, you need goalscorers and extremely solid defences.
Leading the division’s scoring charts is Andre Gray, a player who PNE managed to keep at bay in both of their meetings with Burnley.
Middlesbrough have the slightly less prolific but still effective Jordan Rhodes and David Nugent.
At the other end of the pitch, Boro have shipped only 28 goals this season – and just seven of those have been at the Riverside Stadium.
Burnley have conceded 35, a slightly less mean defence but still a decent record.
Hopefully, North End can get back to winning ways at Reading and then finish off the campaign strongly against Leeds the following week.
Brentford jumped above them in the table on Saturday, knocking them down a place to 11th. To finish there would still be decent but a top-10 place looks even better.