IT seems this season that every time Saints take a step forward, they take another one back.
That has certainly been the case on several occasions during games where they have taken leads only to throw them away.
On other occasions, such as this, it's been the case with results.
After seemingly getting back on track with a win at Sheffield United, you felt the stage was set for another away win at Preston.
But instead it ended in a crushing defeat and now it's back to the drawing board again for what will be a very difficult game against West Brom at St Mary's.
It's been getting a general consistency that has troubled Saints this season.
Poor defeat for Saints, who are struggling for consistency. Hard to criticise individual players because many of the failings are collective ones. George Burley faces a tough task to try and lift his side for a very difficult game at the weekend.Adam Leitch
That has started with team selection and the disruption of injuries through to individual and collective performances.
We've seen plenty of evidence in odd games to show what Saints can do.
We've seen plenty of evidence in patches in games which Saints have failed to win this season as well.
But the trouble is all that ultimately matters is getting points on the board and for that, in this league, you cannot afford inconsistencies.
They will, and have been, cruelly punished.
We saw more of that last night.
After the superb defensive display at Bramall Lane, where the team played as a unit, it just wasn't the same at Deepdale.
The intensity seemed to have dropped, people stood off their men, and they paid the price.
Saints created very little and at the back they allowed Preston too much space and too many chances.
It really was a world away from the weekend. But with the team showing only one enforced change, you have to wonder why.
In the first half Saints failed to even create an opening until just before the break.
Preston took the lead on 11 minutes after a typical defensive lapse.
Kevin Nicholls was able to thread the ball to Paul Gallagher on the right side of the area and he had the time and space to take a touch, look up and pick his spot.
He went across the keeper towards the far corner but Kelvin Davis got down to his left and got his hand to it to keep it out.
The ball didn't go very far, though, and it was Preston who were more alive to the danger, Karl Hawley sliding in ahead of Alexander Ostlund to prod home from two yards.
It could have been worse for Saints as Liam Chilvers headed wide at the far post while Hawley was allowed to hold off Christian Dailly and get in a shot that Davis did well to stop.
Just as it all seemed a bit desperate, Saints came to life before half-time.
Grzegorz Rasiak forced Andy Lonergan into his first saves of the match while Darren Carter cleared off the line from Marek Saganowski.
In first half stoppage time Saints got an equaliser when Phil Ifil curled in a cross from the right with the outside of his right boot which Billy Jones headed into his own net just ahead of Saganowski.
You thought Saints would come out and push on from there. At 1-1 the game was in the balance.
They suffered a set-back on 57 minutes when referee Graham Laws awarded a penalty.
Ifil challenged Gallagher for a cross and a penalty was given. The pair were in a tussle and it seemed a little harsh.
Carter stepped up and saw his penalty saved by Davis down to his left, but the ball rebounded to Carter in the centre of goal and he slid it home.
Rather than rallying, Saints started to look even shakier and it was no real surprise they shipped another three goals in pretty disappointing circumstances.
On 74 minutes Chris Sedgwick's run in from the right wing was totally untracked and he steered a header into the bottom corner.
Hawley almost added his second with a far post header from a corner, but his bullet of an effort smashed into Davis.
The final two goals, in the final seven minutes from substitute Patrick Agyemang, were dreadful from Saints' point of view.
On 83 minutes Dailly attempted a backpass to Davis. It was short and Davis hesitated and was left one-on-one and Agyemang stole in to lift the ball past him.
In second half stoppage time Agyemang was allowed freedom to run in the left channel and he finished across Davis to complete the misery.
Saints have little time to regroup after this, but they have to - West Brom are on fire.
Consistency is the key for them this season and this was way off what is required.
Saints need to move forward again and keep going that way.