Five things we learned: Preston North End 0-0 Norwich
Preston North End saw their play-off hopes frustrated with a goalless draw against Norwich at Deepdale on Saturday.
The result leaves the Lilywhites in ninth, two points shy of the play-off places with two games to go.
That might be the best opportunity North End get
A goal, any goal not matter how fortuitous or scrappy, would have seen PNE draw level with sixth-placed Millwall on Saturday. But it wasn’t to be against Norwich as the Lilywhites basically did everything but score. Paul Gallagher hit the bar in the first half before Billy Bodin and Sean Maguire saw excellent chances come and go in the second. A third straight win would have given North End real momentum heading into the game at Sheffield United next Saturday but now Alex Neil will have to pick up a frustrated squad in the week to come for one final push.
It’s not over yet
That is likely to be Neil’s message at Springfields between now and next weekend. As disappointing as Saturday afternoon ultimately was PNE actually closed the gap to the top six from three points to two. They are however a further place back in ninth. Neil acknowledged for the first time that it is win or bust for his side with Derby also having a game in hand on the rest. With the Blades a point further back in 11th and in a similar situation it makes for some occasion at Bramall Lane. Both however, will need help from elsewhere between now and May 6.
Chances, chances, chances
In a way this was an afternoon that summed up large parts of North End’s life under Neil. They did so much right. Pressed high, Alan Browne to the fore, and controlled large parts of the game. But it was the final pass, cross, decision or on Saturday, finish, that let PNE down. Bodin’s curling shot looked to be in to one side of the ground while Maguire will wonder how he headed over from eight yards. It is the only area you can fault this side, who didn’t shirk the occasion and gave it everything at what was the loudest Deepdale of the season. Those fans will be hoping they get one more chance to cheer their side to the top six when Burton visit Deepdale on May 6.
Home form could prove costly
It’s now just eight wins for North End at Deepdale in 22 league games this season. So often they’ve been frustrated with Saturday the latest in a long line of games where three points should have been yielded not one. Part of the transition under Neil has been turning PNE into a side whose instinct is to play on the front foot. They still seem to prefer playing on the road however, the stats would certainly back that up but progress is being made. There is also an argument that sides are showing the Lilywhites more respect when they make the trip to Lancashire and Neil’s men are just struggling to break solid teams down. Whichever way you look at it, in the long term, it’s certainly a record that needs to improve.
Clarke is a real leader of men
No Preston fan needs reminding of Tom Clarke’s qualities. Again preferred to Ben Davies, it was in the second half that he really caught the eye. It wasn’t his defensive work through it was that with PNE having made three substitutes, the skipper played the final half an hour injured. Clarke actually committed a foul jumping for a corner but jarred his hamstring in the incident. The defender was strapped up and soldiered on. At times he was limping after every meaningful involvement, be it a clearance or tackle, but there was never any chance of him shirking his responsibility or being shifted out of harm’s way. A real warrior.