Dave Seddon's verdict

If there was a modicum of comfort for the PNE fans who arrived 45 minutes late at Reading , it was that they missed absolutely nothing.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 7th August 2016, 2:55 pm
Updated Sunday, 7th August 2016, 3:04 pm
Tom Clarke, Paul Huntington, Ben Pringle and Daniel Johnson are frustrated after conceding at Reading
Tom Clarke, Paul Huntington, Ben Pringle and Daniel Johnson are frustrated after conceding at Reading

A car fire which blocked the M40 meant some supporters did not arrive at the Madejski Stadium until half-time.

While they sat frustrated in their coach, those who had made it to Reading by other routes and by other modes of transport, watched a very poor first-half performance from Simon Grayson’s men.

To describe North End as being second best to their hosts for 45 minutes, borders on an understatement.

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The Royals boasted 82% possession in the first period, a combination of the visitors sitting back and being pinned back.

John Swift’s 35th minute goal had inevitability surrounding it, a common phrase used in the aftermath being, ‘That was coming’.

Reading had swarmed all over North End before that, their front four rotating to good effect.

It was a relief that it stayed at 1-0 going into the interval, giving Grayson the chance to change things around.

He switched formations, took Liam Grimshaw out of the firing line and threw Alan Browne into the action.

They were better for that and made more of an impact on the contest.

By then, the travel-weary fans had made it to the ground and at least witnessed more of a show than their peers had done for 45 minutes.

Reading ran out of steam in the heat, their attacking less of a threat save for a few forages forward on the break.

PNE looked the more likely to score the game’s second goal but unfortunately, an equaliser eluded them.

A late siege of the home box offered an exciting finale, causing the Reading faithful some anxious moments.

Grayson reckoned his side had been a couple of yards off the pace in the first period and half a yard in the second.

Perhaps the North End manager meant that in an anticipation and thinking sense, rather than physically being out-run.

Certainly the Royals were quicker in thought in that first period, Jaap Stam being able to enjoy his first league game as a manager in England.

I do think though, that had Preston been more at the races, there would have been something for them.

They had sights of goal in the second half, none better than Daniel Johnson’s one-on-one which he put too near to goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.

Had DJ found the net at the same end of the ground he had done so in April, it could have been a game changer.

Much of the post-match debate from a PNE view, focused on events in the first half and the approach to it.

They started in their tried-and-trusted 3-5-2, a system used a great deal over the last few seasons – and it has to be said, used successfully.

What didn’t work on this occasion was Grimshaw’s use at right wing-back, something of a specialist role.

For the last three of the pre-season games, the former Manchester United lad had been used at right-back.

He had looked fine there, however the wing-back role is different.

I had predicted Chris Humphrey being given that role, one he has played a number of times.

Grimshaw struggled in what was his competitive North End debut.

But to pin all of PNE’s poor play on him in the first half, would be harsh indeed.

There were others who did not come up to scratch but did get the chance to improve in the second half.

At the interval, Grayson switched to 4-4-2, Tom Clarke moving out of the central three to right-back.

When he limped off later with a strained hamstring, Humphrey was asked to fill the full-back vacancy.

Many times, especially away from home, Preston’s use of the 3-5-2 has not been questioned.

There is no suggestion it will be abandoned this term, it was just that at Reading, things did not click.

Whether North End dropped too deep or were pushed back – let’s give the home side credit for their play rather than lay everything at PNE’s door – it left a yawning gap between defence and the attack.

Jermaine Beckford and Joe Garner were starved of any real service, with more often than not, the midfield three back defending.

Too often in the first half when Preston cleared their lines in the box, the ball was coming back quickly at them.

Questions were asked as to whether the midfield was designed more to pass the ball and create, rather than having someone in there to help stop Reading playing.

Should Browne have been in from the start, should John Welsh have been an option on the bench?

Ben Pearson would have been an option for a ratting role too, had illness not kept him out of the frame.

Amid the poor show in the first half, PNE did have the ball in the net – Beckford’s effort chalked off after Garner was adjudged to controlled Greg Cunningham’s cross with his forearm.

The only goal came when Gareth McCleary rolled a low corner into the path of SWIFT who finished superbly with a first-time shot into the top corner.

DJ had the best of North End’s chances to level, getting possession as Reading were undone trying to play out from the back.

Cunningham was inches from connecting with a Paul Huntington flick-on, while Paul Gallagher’s shot after Al Habsi had flapped at a cross, was blocked.