Coventry City 0 Preston North End 1

If Coventry City seriously want to threaten reaching the Championship's top six next season they could do worse than take a leaf out of Preston North End's book.

Last season's finalists all but achieved a place in this year's play-offs with a comfortable win, ending a 13-match unbeaten home run.

Billy Davies's team go about their business in a quiet but effective manner and seem to slip almost unnoticed into the top six. With some of their injured players close to recovery they could be a good bet to finally reach the Premiership this time.

Coventry, after this defeat, must play out the season with a simple goal of finishing higher than 11th - that would be their highest place since dropping from the footballing elite five years ago.

From the first whistle on Saturday it was easy to see which side believed they still had something tangible to play for. Preston dominated the opening half and took the points thanks to a long-range effort by Simon Whaley.

The visitors had been struggling to score on their travels due largely to the absence of hot-shot striker David Nugent.

Whaley's winner was Preston's first goal away from home in more than six hours of football - but it is their solidity from back to front that separates them from also-rans like Coventry.

The defensive duo of Youl Mawene and Claude Davis dealt with Dele Adebola and Stern John almost at ease while full-backs Tyrone Mears and Graham Alexander contributed in defence and attack.

In contrast, despite their recent form at the Ricoh, Coventry manager Micky Adams is still searching for the right partner for Robert Page in the back four.

Richard Shaw, dragged off after 25 minutes during the 4-1 debacle at Crewe, was missing from the 16-man squad - apparently rested -but Ady Williams, his replacement, hardly grabbed the jersey with both hands.

In the full-back positions, Andy Whing was once again substituted after his only notable contribution was the slip that allowed Whaley to crack in from distance.

On the other side, Adams cannot be too convinced by Marcus Hall or he would have insisted that the club open talks with the defender on a new deal as his present contract ends in the summer. Hall is still awaiting a call.

Coventry's defending has been the weak link this season and that is where they could learn most from Saturday's opposition.

But, unusually, the likes of Gary McSheffrey and Dennis Wise also disappointed for nearly all of the match.

It wasn't until the introduction of Don Hutchison that Coventry started to make a game of it.

Wise and McSheffrey brought saves out of Carlo Nash who was far busier than Marton Fulop in the second half - although once again the Hungarian was immaculate for the home team whenever he was called upon.

James Scowcroft failed from point-blank range when John unsettled Nash and in the dying minutes the Trinidad & Tobago international skied a shot from ten yards with only the keeper to beat.

Adams said: "We created better chances than Preston. But I don't think we particularly played better than them.

"You have to admire Billy Davies and his team as they have quite a few injuries but still have great organisation and team spirit. He has invested wisely and I am sure they will be a threat whoever they come up against in the play-offs."

Adams can only hope an opposition manager is saying the same about him and his team in 12 months.