Preston North End midfielder Ben Whiteman admitted the Lilywhites were miles off it in Saturday's 4-0 defeat at Middlesbrough.
The high flying Riverside outfit went in one-nil up at half-time, thanks to Chuba Akpom's 25th goal of the season. Ex-PNE loan star Cameron Archer then came back to haunt his old club, with a lethal second half brace, before Marcus Forss capped off the win for Michael Carrick's side.
PNE headed into the game - which was also the club's Gentry Day - on a seven match unbeaten run. A trip to Boro always looked a difficult assignment though, and the defeat ended up being a bruising one. Whiteman's dejection was clear at full-time, but he did feel there could've been something there for North End as he went in at half-time.
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"Yeah 100 per cent," Whiteman told LancsLive. "We got into areas and had a little bit of territory, but listen, they are a good team. If you give the ball away in bad areas, when they leave three or four up the pitch, with their running power and pace they are going to hurt you. They have got the two boys at the top of the pitch, who are flying, so yeah it's one of them. Sometimes it is about us being brave, but it's one of those days. You are not going to blame anyone or anything; it's a collective and we need to be better.
"They drag you into areas and with their power and pace, it sometimes happens (dropping deep). You worry about the one in behind, which is understandable. Sometimes you want to get a press on, but in the first half the distances were too big all over the pitch. We got played through and in the end it was quite easy for them. Tough one to take, we were rash in the way we defended as a team and as a whole. It's one of those where we have to move on now. Today was probably a little bit of a lesson, really.
"Ched (Evans) is a massive miss, with the way we want to play. He has been outstanding all season and is vital to how we want to play. The first one is a good bit of play for them, but you come out in the second half and want to give it a good go. We conceded within five or ten minutes, so it's one of them. You cannot come to these places and give teams a two-nil head start."
Whiteman is a keen student of the game and a player big on team performance. North End's number four noted the improvement in that regard of late, but concluded that Preston have to become a better side in order to challenge higher up the Championship.
"Massively," said Whiteman. "There has been a massive upturn in performance, but today is a massive down. You need to come to these places - if you're aspiring to get in and around the play-offs - and put in a performance more than anything. I don't think we did that today. It's that added quality - you play the first 15 or 20 minutes and think that a point would probably be a good result here.
"We are not kidding ourselves; we see how long we can keep it 0-0 and then try to nick something from a set-piece. But, they have got two players at the top of the pitch who are flying at the minute. We've all seen how good Cammy Archer is and he was excellent again today. (Michael Carrick) played at the top level for Man United and he is going to be a top manager. He has turned them right round, so credit to them and their staff - they were good today and the miles better team."
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