Alex Neil was frustrated by how early Ollie Watkins’ match-winning goal came as Preston North End were beaten 1-0 at Griffin Park, but stressed that his side’s only focus now can be on winning their next game.
The division’s form side made it eight wins in a row through Watkins’ solitary strike but were restricted to few clear opportunities on the Lilywhites’ final league visit to Griffin Park, while the visitors were also denied an equaliser by some fine saves from goalkeeper David Raya.
Alex explained that plenty of preparation on shape work had been done heading into the meeting with Thomas Frank’s side, and was generally satisfied with the results of that, but for that crucial opening goal.
“I thought that conceding the early goal was really frustrating for us, we’d done a lot of work over the last 24 hours, 48 hours, in terms of the shape and how we were going to function,” the manager told iFollow PNE.
“It actually comes through us having the ball on a transition and they counter and they get the goal really early and that was disappointing because I thought in the main our shape was good.I thought we countered and nicked the ball really well and made them force it through central areas and I thought we looked a danger in transition.
“We get a really good chance after the goal, I think Tommy B [Barkhuizen] gets in one-on-one with the goalkeeper, he makes a good save. I think if that goes in it probably changes the game again because then they need to force the issue and then it allows us to counter in the spaces that they’ve left.
“I thought second half, although we played the same shape, we really sort of played on top of them, played aggressively, and I thought we had really good pressure for about 25 to 30 minutes and penned them in.
“We then changed it and I actually think it probably then took a little bit of sting out of the match at that point because obviously their two big centre backs are two big strapping lads and I thought we then struggled to get down the sides of them, a lot of things were then going through the middle.
“I can’t fault the effort of the lads, I thought everybody that came in gave their all. I think the frustration we’ve all got is how early we conceded the first goal.”
The manager felt his side’s game plan was an effective one, keeping the free-scoring Bees from causing too much of a threat with the exception of the goal.
“That was the game plan and obviously to limit a team with the attacking quality that they’ve got to very, very little, was obviously something we needed to stifle what they’ve got.
“If you make it an open game in the form that they’re in at the moment, it’s a difficult match for any team in the league at this moment as has been proven recently. I thought our game plan was spot on, it was just about making sure in those key moments you make those right decisions and unfortunately, in one of them, on one occasion.”
The Lilywhites sit five points off the play-off spots with two games remaining and will need to rely on favourable results from elsewhere to stand a chance of finishing in the top six.
However, the gaffer’s only focus now is on Saturday’s visit of Birmingham City, and seeing where they stand following the final home game of the regular season.
“We just need to win the next game and then see whether results come our way in other games after that. If it presents us with an opportunity, it goes to the last one. If it doesn’t then naturally, we’ll all be really disappointed, as we are tonight, and frustrated. We’ve gave it our best shot.
“There’s just little key moments where if you can just get across somebody and get that first touch, that can be the difference in the match. We’re all sore just now because obviously it’s a tough one to take. We’ll be ready again for Saturday, we’ll go and try to win that game, hopefully we win it, and then we’ll see where we stand.”
Watch Alex’s post-match thoughts in full on iFollow PNE.