It’s the hope that kills.

If we’re totally honest it wasn’t Preston North End’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of a seemingly unbeatable juggernaut in Brentford that finally blew out the flame on North End’s season..

You look back at Callum McManaman’s sucker punch equaliser in the 1-1 draw against Luton Town, the two bitterly disappointing home defeats to fellow play-off hopefuls, Cardiff City and Derby County and Preston’s lack of invention and cutting edge against Huddersfield Town and Nottingham Forest.

Those memories all put a significant dent in PNE’s play-off hopes, and when Alex Neil’s men travelled to Griffin Park to take on third-placed Brentford in what was ultimately a must win game, Preston’s fate was perhaps already decided.

Especially when Ben Pearson and Ben Davies - two of Preston’s most integral players - were unavailable for selection with injury.

I’ve never known such an important game feel so much like a free hit.

You could be forgiven for fearing the worst when Ollie Watkins notched his 25th goal of the season within the first five minutes.

Brentford's Ollie Watkins

But in many ways the goal that ultimately separated the sides may have been a blessing in disguise.

North End couldn’t be faulted after the goal. They worked tirelessly off the ball, and got into some good positions on it.

Ironically, the closest Preston came to breaching the Brentford defence came from a Darnell Fisher free kick which had guile and dip and was well saved by Bees ‘keeper David Raya.

Again, it was a similar story, in which the men in green lacked that cutting edge - which is utter gold dust in the Championship.

You’re seldom able to sign that lucrative cutting edge when doing deals in the bargain basement, and despite a good, young and hungry squad has been assembled over the past couple of years, the lack of quality in the final third will always be Preston’s limiting factor.

North End’s season looks to have ended at Griffin Park, but there was some light at the end of the tunnel.

The positive showings by Jordan Storey and Ryan Ledson left North End supporters feeling proud despite defeat on Wednesday night.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the Preston faithful were able to have a brief glance to the future.

The contract situation at Deepdale makes for grim reading, with so many of the Lilywhites’ prized assets heading into the final year of their contracts.

But Wednesday night showed there will be life after Davies and Pearson.

You get the feeling that Ryan Ledson’s apprenticeship with Ben Pearson Ltd may well be coming to an end relatively soon with a qualification to fill the void that his employer will leave behind.

With two games of the season to go, Preston can now play with freedom, allowing Alex Neil to do some tinkering. We may even see the next stanza in the curious case of Tom Bayliss. And of course PNE’s annual victory at Ashton Gate.

Following that, it’s a massive summer for Preston North End and potentially the dismantling of the current era.

But if you can afford yourself a look into the future, it isn’t all bleak.