Alex Neil felt his side were missing a touch of quality in attack as visitors Middlesbrough scored a goal in each half to record a 2-0 win over the Lilywhites at Deepdale.
Rudy Gestede’s acrobatic effort saw Jonathan Woodgate’s team take the lead five minutes before half-time – just as Alex felt his side were getting into their stride, as he told iFollow PNE post-match.
“I think naturally after the Reading game, the emphasis was really on that first goal,” he said. “I think Middlesbrough got the first goal probably in our best spell.
“I thought the first ten to 15 minutes, we were a little bit loose with our passing, the ball wasn’t really sticking at the top end as much and they had a couple of little sort of snapshots.
“After that, we sort of settled into the game a little bit, I thought we got better probably after about 20 minutes to about 35 minutes I thought we were on top of the game.
“Gally [Paul Gallagher] had a couple of efforts at the edge of the box, Tommy B [Barkhuizen] gets in down the right hand side, we started to stretch them and they sunk back in and we started to dominate the ball a bit better.
“We gave a free-kick away on the far side and then it comes in, we don’t defend our box well enough, it sort of scraps about and then they stick it in the net.
“I think the difficulty we’ve had is when we’ve scored first, it allows us then to be in a good shape and counter off the back of that. When that happens against us, we try to then force the issue and get that next goal, but naturally that then leaves you more vulnerable.”
Alex was disappointed with the manner of how the second goal was conceded and felt his team didn’t do enough with their majority share of possession.
“The second goal is just a comedy of errors,” he added. “It’s a goal kick, we lose the first header, we cover round to pick up the second ball and I’m not quite sure what happens, I don’t know if it gets caught under our feet or whatever, but it ends up in the back of the net.
“From that point, we really need to try to force the issue because there’s no point accepting a 2-0 defeat. We go for the next goal, leave ourselves really exposed and I thought we had a lot of pressure without any real opportunities or substance.
“To be fair, I thought Declan [Rudd] made two or three really good saves to stop them scoring again, but it’s either that or just sitting behind the ball and accepting the game’s over, and naturally that’s not the way we want to do it.
“But I thought we lacked quality in terms of possession, I thought the turnovers were far too much – the first half, the amount of times that we took the ball in tight areas, lost it and then they countered, I thought square passes and giving the ball away, even ones when we had it our side run out play – that was definitely frustrating.”
The manager also spoke of the importance of scoring first and the impact that has on the remainder of the game.
“I really do believe that most of the games that we’ve played when we get the first goal, we’re really effective at that point because teams come out, play against us – I think that’s the last two opponents have played in very similar fashion, albeit with different systems.
“But when they’ve got the first goal, we’ve then found it really difficult to break them down and they’ve sucked up pressure and hurt us on the counter. We just haven’t really found that little extra bit of quality to open them up.
“I think we have missed DJ, I don’t think there’s any questions about that, that extra link in that middle area has caused us a real problem. We just didn’t find the solution – we’re getting into good areas, put a lot of balls into the box, but it didn’t come to anything.”
Next up for North End is the visit of Premier League Norwich City to Deepdale for Saturday’s FA Cup third round tie, with the boss now looking to lift spirits ahead of that clash.
“It’s frustrating obviously when you’ve lost the last two games in the manner which we did. It’'ll probably be a little bit sombre tomorrow, but we need to pick them up for the next one.”
Watch more from Alex now by clicking on the video above.