Preston's 'fight' was bigger than Middlesbrough's admits Chris Wilder
Emile-Riis inspired North End produced an outstanding performance to hammer Boro, who saw Paddy McNair sent off late on for handball and made a mockery of the notion that, being in mid-table, they had nothing to play for.
Results elsewhere for Luton and Sheffield United meant that Boro - even if they had won - would not have gatecrashed the top six with victory.
But the manner of their performance hugely disappointed Wilder, whose side were second-best to hosts, with Riis grabbing a hat-trick.
Wilder added: "You wake up believing, but it was not to be.
"Everyone that could go wrong did. Players were really off of it.
"If anyone else, outside of being a professional footballer, asks me about 'nothing to play' for ever again, I will just show them the performance of the opposition today and how they went about it. They fully deserved the result, they were better than us all over the pitch.
"Their front two were better than our back three. Their midfield players dominated and dictated and their back three were more aggressive and their wing-backs were better than ours and their goalkeeper made saves and there was the movement of the front two.
"It was a better performance individually and collectively by Preston all over the park and their substitutes made an impact. Our fight should have been bigger than theirs, but they put to bed that stuff about not having anything to play for.
"I look at the team. Plus point? Jonny Howson. That’s it.
“You come to any Championship game, regardless of whether it’s the 46th Championship game of the season, play-off final, first game of the season, if it’s Tuesday night here on a freezing November, players have got to turn up and play. We’ve not had anybody apart from Jonny Howson.
“You look at the opposition, I would say sevens and eights. Riis and Archer at the top of the pitch destroyed our back three. Their back three dominated our two boys at the top of the pitch. I can’t really take a comfort from the performance."