Alex Neil felt his side played well in aspects despite their 2-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion, highlighting the home side’s ruthless streak in the final third as the difference between the sides.
Hal Robson-Kanu and Jake Livermore scored at the start and finish of the first half and the visitors’ task was made more difficult by Darnell Fisher’s dismissal 20 minutes after the half-time interval.
The manager admitted it was a challenge going up against the SkyBet Championship leaders, who had former North End forward Callum Robinson in their frontline, but wouldn’t be overly critical of his team.
“It was a difficult night but I thought there were aspects of our game that were good, we moved the ball well,” he told iFollow PNE at the Hawthorns. “Our biggest disappointment, for me, is I thought the two goals defensively were cheap, that was frustrating.
“Both of them come in transition – we’ve got the ball and we give it away in silly areas. From that point, they’ve got arguably as good a front four as you’re going to find at this level, and even if you look at the bench, they’re bringing Matt Phillips and [Kamil] Grosicki on.
“I thought the likes of [Matheus] Pereira’s and [Callum] Robinson’s movement was good, I thought [Hal] Robson-Kanu led the line really well. Having said that, I didn’t think we played poorly at all.
“I’m the first to criticise my team if I thought we were poor, I didn’t think that was the case, I just thought we were outdone by a team that had a real cutting edge at the top end of the pitch and that was the biggest difference for me.”
Robson-Kanu’s close-range effort saw the Baggies in front inside six minutes but Alex pointed out that his side had chances to pull level, particularly with a pair of headers falling David Nugent’s way.
“I thought he had two really great chances, Nuge, with his head. There was one, Hughesy put one to the back post which I thought was a great chance, he sort of gets under it and hits it off the ground and goes over.
“The second one, which I thought was in when he headed it and even when I’ve spoken to him, I think he thinks he maybe should have done a bit better with it. We knew we were going to have opportunities, it was always going to be the case, but when you come to somewhere like this, you need to capitalise on every chance that you do get and you need to make sure that you make them work really hard to score against you.
“To concede so early and so cheaply was frustrating and I think it made us then have to try to chase the game a little bit and it’s always going to be difficult from that point.”
The manager felt Darnell Fisher’s red card was a contentious one and explained that he had to protect his team from that point onwards, playing with ten men for the final half an hour.
“The fourth official was talking about his dragging leg in terms of the follow-through. But having looked at it back, that certainly wasn’t the case, there was no follow-through.
“I think Darnell goes in for the ball, Callum comes out of the challenge and then I think it looked worse than it actually was. We’re disappointed having seen it back that it was a red card – I’m not convinced. It might be something we need to look at.
“From that point, I’ve got to protect my team. The last thing we want to do is go tearing about and it end up going from 2-0 to four or five nil, because they’re more than capable of doing that. I think at that stage it was always going to be really difficult for us to get back in the game.
“What we need to do is make sure that as far as we’re concerned, there’s bits we need to learn from this game, I think there’s bits we can look at and think we did okay, but at the end of the day we need to put this one to bed because we’ve got big games coming up we need to focus on.”
Watch more from Alex by clicking on the video above.