Preston North End were hit with another setback in the battle for Championship promotion on Saturday afternoon, as they lost 2-0 to Fulham at Craven Cottage.
After a goalless first half in which Sean Maguire saw a goal ruled out for offside for the visitors, Fulham took the lead 12 minutes into the second half when David Nugent headed into his own net from an Anthony Knockaert corner, before substitute Aboubakar Kamara sealed all three points for the hosts on the counter-attack five minutes into stoppage time.
That result means Preston remain sixth in the Championship table, although they are now 12 points adrift of the automatic promotion places, and just two points clear of seventh-placed Bristol City in the race for the play-off places.
As a result, there we be much to think about for North End boss Alex Neil going into the final ten games of the season, and here, we look at three things we learnt about Preston from that defeat at Fulham.
David Nugent’s tough return to Preston continues
Given his past record at Preston, it was no surprise to see that Nugent’s return to Deepdale back in the summer met with huge excitement when it was confirmed.
Since then however, things haven’t exactly gone to plan for Nugent. The striker has scored just once for North End this season – ironically in the 2-1 win over Fulham in the reverse fixture at Deepdale – and the frustration will only have been increased by his own goal at Craven Cottage this weekend.
As a result of that, you feel the pressure around Nugent will only continue to rise in the next few weeks if things do not improve, with a lack of apparent alternative goalscoring options upfront, giving him both the opportunity to turn things back in his favour, and leaving him feeling the weight of expectation in Preston’s search for someone to lead the line.
They are about to face a big test in midfield
It will not just have been the result that will have left Neil and co. both disappointed and concerned on Saturday evening.
Speaking in the aftermath of the game, Neil revealed that central midfield Ben Pearson is set to miss the next month of the campaign with a hamstring injury suffered at Craven Cottage.
That is something that can only be a big blow for Preston, with Pearson having been nothing short of a dominant presence in the centre of midfield for North End this season, putting in some big performances to help his side to some crucial results.
As a result, with the 25-year-old now set to miss a significant chunk of the remainder of the campaign, North End have a big void to fill in the centre of the park, and while that is not going to be easy, it will show the characteristics of a promotion-winning side if they are able to come through what may well be a tricky period without such a key player.
It could have been a lot worse for them
You could certainly understand it if everyone concerned with Preston North End, were simply relieved to get this week over and done with when the final whistle went at Craven Cottage on Saturday.
That defeat at Fulham followed a chastening 2-0 loss at league leaders West Brom on Tuesday night, but despite those two possible wakeup calls as to Preston’s standing in comparison to those chasing automatic promotion, they are at least still in a strong position when it comes to the race for the play-offs.
With the five teams directly below them in the Championship table all also failing to pick up a win from either of their two most recent matches, Preston remain in the top six, with a place in the play-offs still firmly in their hands following two hugely challenging assignments.
As a result, you feel that thanks as much to others as themselves, there is still some room for some positivity for Preston when they reflect on this week, just as long as they can start picking up wins again, sooner rather than later.