Dave Seddon's big match verdict

Given the young age of the Preston team which beat Reading, the win bonus no doubt amounted to a packet of Haribo each and a visit to the ice cream van.

Sunday, 20th August 2017, 3:00 pm
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:39 pm
Jordan Hugill turns away to celebrate after scoring Preston's winner

The average age of North End’s starting XI was a shade over 23, yet they did a man’s job in seeing off the Royals who were beaten play-off finalists just three months ago.

Skipper Paul Huntington was the old head of the team at 29, Chris Maxwell next in line at 27 and matchwinner Jordan Hugill at 25.

The rest, including the three subs who came on, were 24 and under. Josh Earl at 18 was making his first-team debut, while 19-year-old Stephy Mavididi made a late cameo appearance.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Another teenager, Mat Hudson, 19, warmed the bench as Maxwell’s cover.

The young group put in a performance full of energy and running to put a second Championship victory of the season on the board.

That is seven points from the first four games, ones which had a rather daunting look when the fixture list was released in June.

It will not get any easier at Middlesbrough – fresh down from the Premier League – next week, but what is to say PNE cannot get something on Teesside?

While injuries to some of the older heads in Tom Clarke, Paul Gallagher, John Welsh and now Greg Cunningham, have reduced the average age, the Lilywhites’ recruitment has tended to target players at the younger end of the scale.

The squad, under a young manager in Alex Neil, are a work in progress and there will be bumps in the road along the way in their development.

But when they click, as was the case on Saturday, this group of players offer bags of optimism for the months ahead.

Victory over the Royals could have and should have been by a bigger margin.

They racked up 21 efforts against Jaap Stam’s men, with eight of them on target.

The one which won them the game came from the right boot of Hugill and hit the back of the net with some force. He controlled a header from Sean Maguire on his chest and then leathered a volley past the helpless Vito Mannone.

There were opportunities for others to add their names to the scoresheet.

Ben Pearson, Ben Davies, Tom Barkhuizen and Mavididi had good chances over the 
90-odd minutes.

Only once was Maxwell made to work at the other end, saving Joseph Mendes’ header.

Reading passed the ball well as we expected but there seemed a lack of purpose to their play.

They had lots of possession late on as PNE dropped deep but with it came little threat to the home goal.

Another clean sheet then – that is three in four games.

In the latter stages of the pre-season campaign, alarm bells had rung by reason of some of the defending.

That was borne out to some extent at Accrington when three goals were leaked in the League Cup, but the trio of shut-outs in the league have shown a sense of organisation at the back.

So far they have only been breached by a penalty and they rarely looked like 
conceding in this contest.

It was a new-look and 
re-shaped defence which kept Reading at arms’ length.

After going three at the back at Derby, Neil reverted to a 4-2-3-1. Davies got the nod to stay in alongside Huntington, with Tommy Spurr the man to miss out and have to make do with a seat on the bench.

Earl was the man – or the boy – handed the left-back slot.

He took over from Greg 
Cunningham who is facing a long spell out with a gruesome sounding knee injury.

Cunningham’s are big boots to fill, the Irishman not only the stand-in skipper but one of the best left-backs in the division. Earl can look back on his debut with a high degree of satisfaction.

A pleasant well-spoken lad, he read the game well and in Modou Barrow, had Reading’s best player to police.

Standing 6ft 4in, Earl can look after himself and his height was most welcome when defending set-pieces.

It fact, it was at the other end where he almost claimed an early assist, flicking on a Josh Harrop corner which Davies volleyed just over.

Harrop was another to come into the side as Neil gave things a fresh look.

He played in the No.10 role, flanked either side by Maguire and Barkhuizen.

With Neil not keen on an out-and-out 4-4-2, he asked Maguire to play a supporting role from the right, one it must be said he did very well.

The ex-Cork man was close to my starman – in fact there were a number of players who had a decent shout.

I opted for Daniel Johnson in the end, his range of passing excellent.

He and Pearson kept 
Preston moving, linking up play well and happy to get to the second ball.

There was almost a rare goal from Pearson in the early stages when he won the ball in the centre circle, playing a one-two off Hugill and driving upfield.

Once in the box he got the ball stuck under his feet and his shot was not the cleanest hit, allowing Mannone to save.

The winner came in the 23rd minute, Maxwell’s long clearance chased over the top by Barkhuizen.

His first touch was a tad heavy but the frontman got it back under control close to the byline and turned to work the ball on to his right foot.

Barkhuizen’s cross over to the far post found Maguire who jumped to head it into the path of HUGILL, who chested it down and volleyed home from seven yards.

North End could really do with holding on to the striker amid all the speculation over his future.

Post-match, Neil described him as a ‘beast’, in the mould of a No.9 but with more strings to his bow.

Hugill would take a great deal of replacing, hence a key piece of this window could be resisting any further interest.

The grass is not always any greener, hopefully Hugill sees that and wants to be part of this developing Preston side.