Match ends, Preston North End 2, Barnsley 0.
Preston continued their resurgence under interim manager Frankie McAvoy as they beat play-off-bound Barnsley.
Jordan Storey prodded in the opener before the break as the ball pinged around the Tykes goalmouth as Ryan Ledson's inswinging corner caused havoc.
Storey then flicked on Tom Barkhuizen's long throw-in to Ched Evans who pounced from five yards to double the lead early in the second half.
Daryl Dike's point-blank effort was deflected wide by Ben Whiteman, and substitute Jasper Moon was denied by a superb late save from Daniel Iversen as Barnsley slipped to only their third league defeat in 20 matches.
With play-off rivals Bournemouth dropping points, Barnsley missed the chance to climb up to fifth place as a second defeat in 10 away trips kept them in sixth, while a third-straight win moved Preston up to 13th.
Despite clinching their play-off spot with two games to spare, Barnsley manager Valerien Ismael made just two changes, eager to maintain momentum and with fourth place - and a home leg in the semi-final second leg - still up for grabs.
However, they struggled to create chances in an even first half, with Conor Chaplin side-footing wide when well placed and Michal Helik's overhead kick forcing home keeper Daniel Iversen into his only save of the half.
Opportunities at the other end also were few, but the Lilywhites made theirs count, Storey netting his first goal of the season after heading a decent early chance wide from another teasing Ledson corner.
Ismael reacted by making a triple substitution at half-time, but it failed to have the desired effect as Evans got in front of his marker to score his fifth Preston goal within five minutes of the restart.
Despite a spell of late pressure from the visitors, a fourth successive clean sheet ensured Preston avoided matching the club record of 12 home league defeats in a season, having picked up just 26 points from a possible 69 at Deepdale this term.
Interim Preston head coach Frankie McAvoy said:
"We were desperate to do well and the game plan worked exactly how we wanted it to.
"I was given an opportunity here for eight games and this opportunity might never have come up again.
"I didn't think for a minute we would win four, draw two and lose one of our last seven.
"The players have done me and the coaching staff brilliantly over the seven games I've been in charge - I can't praise them highly enough."
Barnsley boss Valerien Ismael said:
"We didn't put in the performance we wanted and it's a big disappointment.
"It's a typical case that when we reach our goal last week the pressure came down and we need to raise that. It's a warning for everyone that we need to refocus and come back to our strength and intensity.
"(The goals) show it was a concentration problem, it seems that the guys switched off this afternoon which I guess is a normal human process.
"Now the good thing is we will refocus and know what we have to do and find the right solution against Norwich."
- 2van den Berg
- 17WhitemanBooked at 58minsSubstituted forPottsat 82'minutes
- 26EvansSubstituted forBaylissat 90+2'minutes
- 29BarkhuizenSubstituted forRiis Jakobsenat 70'minutes
- 19Riis Jakobsen
- 26SollbauerSubstituted forSibbickat 45'minutes
- 30HelikBooked at 45mins
- 21PalmerSubstituted forMoonat 45'minutes
- 4StylesSubstituted forWilliamsat 84'minutes
- 11ChaplinSubstituted forMorrisat 45'minutes
- 10DikeBooked at 72mins
- 9WoodrowSubstituted forAdeboyejoat 64'minutes
- Matt Donohue
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Preston North End 2, Barnsley 0.
Substitution, Preston North End. Tom Bayliss replaces Ched Evans.
Jasper Moon (Barnsley) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Ched Evans (Preston North End).
Toby Peter Sibbick (Barnsley) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Ched Evans (Preston North End).
Foul by Alex Mowatt (Barnsley).
Jordan Storey (Preston North End) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Jasper Moon (Barnsley) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner.
Attempt blocked. Carlton Morris (Barnsley) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Alex Mowatt with a cross.
Substitution, Barnsley. Jordan Williams replaces Callum Styles.
Callum Styles (Barnsley) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Sepp van den Berg (Preston North End).
Substitution, Preston North End. Brad Potts replaces Benjamin Whiteman.
Callum Brittain (Barnsley) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Greg Cunningham (Preston North End).
Corner, Barnsley. Conceded by Benjamin Whiteman.
Attempt blocked. Callum Styles (Barnsley) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Alex Mowatt.
Daryl Dike (Barnsley) wins a free kick in the attacking half.