Michael O’Neill was left to rue missed chances and defensive errors from his Stoke City side, who failed to capitalise on their dominance against promotion chasing Preston North End.
Close-range strikes from Alan Browne and Tom Barkhuizen in the second half separated the sides in North Staffordshire, both goals coming after Stoke failed to clear their lines.
But the two mistakes were certainly against the run of play, as Stoke looked by far the better team for a large portion of the match – the manner of the defeat thus adding to O’Neill’s frustration.
He said: “We were more than a match for Preston in the first half, the ball just dropped in the right time and place for them and we were punished.
“Looking at aspects of our own game, our set pieces were inconsistent in delivery, our final ball could have been better from open play, but it’s usually about margins in terms of how you lose a game.
“They had around four shots in the game, two of them were goals. We had the chance to jump a couple of places in the league, and ultimately we feel hard done by, but we have to put it behind us and focus on Saturday.”
Not only are the Potters another game down, but some of O’Neill’s men were left battered and bruised from Preston’s visit, with James McClean lucky not to have seen red in an off-the-ball scuffle.
The manager added: “James’ incident was a yellow card, it’s one of those where so many players get involved but nothing too much happens, so the referee got that one right.
“James also hurt his knee in the first half, so that’s why we subbed him off. We have to have a look at Thibaud [Verlinden – ankle] and James after tonight ahead of QPR.”
Meanwhile in the Preston camp, manager Alex Neill was the more relieved manager after taking away three points from a cold night in ST4.
He said: “I’m happy we won the game, but it was one of the worst performances we’ve had in a while – Stoke were very organised.
“They set traps for us and at half-time, they were the better side, so I was pleased it was still 0-0. We could only get getter in the second 45’.
“We changed things around as we had to find solutions against a defensive Stoke side; showing grit, resolve, and we fought for those three points. Every game is going to snowball in importance towards the end of the season, and that’s the same for the bottom teams as well.”