Joe Garner’s emphatic spot-kick fired North End to a 1-0 victory over a managerless, lacklustre and poor Reading side at Deepdale.
North End dominated the game and the only downside from a terrific performance was that they should have punished an uninspiring Reading side by hitting the net more than once.
PNE talisman Garner caused major headaches for the Reading defence and deservedly bagged his third goal of the campaign in the 51st minute.
The striker was brought down in the box by Paul McShane and dusted himself down to smash the ball into the back of the net from the spot.
Garner should have doubled his tally as his diving header from Paul Gallagher’s curling set-piece just fizzed agonisingly wide of the left post.
But Reading will be kicking themselves as they should have stolen a point from underneath PNE’s noses after Nick Blackman found himself through on goal with only Jordan Pickford to beat. But the striker summed up his side’s performance as he failed to hit the target and hoofed a golden opportunity and Reading’s hopes of nicking a draw over the bar.
The result is only North End’s second win of the season at Deepdale and saw them climb to 16th in the Championship table.
PNE boss Simon Grayson made no changes to the side that beat Burnley 2-0 at Turf Moor.
But Grayson did shift formation, switching to a flat back four with Adam Reach pushed further forward and given the freedom to jump from wing to wing, a move that paid dividends as he terrorised Reading.
Bailey Wright returned from suspension but was only named on the bench due to the form of North End’s defence who picked up their 12th clean sheet of the season in all competitions.
Reach sliced open Reading’s defence before unleashing a powerful strike that appeared to take a slight deflection before clattering back off the right post in the seventh minute.
Reading paceman Matej Vydra nearly snuck in moments later but he was flagged offside as he broke free on the left of the box to go one-on-one with Pickford.
Will Keane twisted and turned in the box and danced past a number of Reading players before losing the ball but luckily it fell into the path of Johnson at the top of the box. The midfielder’s shot fizzed towards goal and appeared to take a deflection but referee Geoff Eltringham - much to the home faithful’s dismay - awarded a goal kick.
Vydra’s tame header from Garath McCleary’s shot was easily collected by North End keeper Pickford and Gallagher lifted the ball way over the bar up the other end after Johnson’s set-piece from the right was cleared straight into his path in a plum position at the top of the box in the 28th minute.
A mix-up between Reading keeper Bond and centre back Ferdinand nearly handed PNE an early Christmas present as they both went for the same ball just outside the box. But fortunately for Reading Ferdinand recovered and was able to nod the ball back to Bond and thwart a swarm of lurking, goal hungry PNE players.
Garner was taken out by Garath McClearly with his back to goal just outside the box on the left and Eltringham did not hesitate to show the Reading player the first yellow card of the afternoon. But North End could not capitalise on the subsequent set-piece as Gallagher’s curling effort flew straight down Bond’s throat.
PNE started the second half brightly and within three minutes of the second 45 they had four attempts on goal.
Marnick Vermijl’s initial angled shot from the right rebounded to Keane who teed-up Reach in space in the middle of the box. The winger’s first shot was parried back to him by Chris Gunter and keeper Bond managed to stop Reach’s second attempt.
And Paul Huntington volleyed wide from 16-yards out from the subsequent corner.
North End finally took a deserved lead from the penalty spot in the 51st minute. Garner sprinted down the left and drove into the box but he was upended by Reading captain McShane. The referee awarded a penalty and Garner dusted himself down, sent the keeper the wrong way and smashed the ball into the back of the net to bag his third goal in four games.
Reading should have levelled against the run of play after Danny Williams teed-up Nick Blackman. Blackman only had Pickford to beat as he stormed towards goal but he buckled under the pressure and lofted the ball over the bar.
McShane was booked for an aerial challenge on Garner in the reading half in the 69th minute and the striker nearly added his second as threw himself through the air to latch onto Gallagher’s in-swinging free-kick from the left but his diving header just flew inches wide of the left post.
Pickford was called into action in the 74th minute and the on-loan Sunderland shot-stopper made a fine save to deny Vydra.
Up the other end Marnick Vermijl weaved his way into the opposition before unleashing a thunderous shot that just fizzed past the left post.
The lively Vydra was at the forefront of most of Reading’s rare forays into PNE’s half and he pulled the ball back to the top of the box for Williams to strike the ball through a crowd of bodies but straight at Pickford.
As Pickford tried to release the ball his kick was blocked by Vydra and the striker was booked for obstruction in the 82nd minute.
Reading searched in vain for an equaliser and Williams curled an injury time free-kick wide of the left post but North End’s resolute defence held firm.
PNE: Pickford, Vermijl, Huntington, Clarke, Cunningham, Gallagher (Welsh, 86), Johnson, Browne, Reach, Keane, Garner. Subs not used: Kirkland, Wright, Kilkenny, Doyle, Woods, Hugill.
Reading: Bond, Gunter, Taylor, McShane, Norwood, Vydra, Robson-Kanu (John, 55) McCleary (Fernandez, 75) Ferdinand, Blackman, Williams. Subs not used: Al-Habsi, Hector, Hurtado, Cooper, Barrett.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham)
Attendance: 10,649 (Away: 506)