Dave Seddon's verdict on Preston North End's home defeat to Reading
Just now, May 6 seems a long time ago. Having said that, so does August 4, when Preston North End last won in the Championship.
It was on May 6 that last season finished, optimism in abundance around Deepdale of what the next campaign could deliver.
Wind the clock forward and that campaign is not going to plan, North End balancing 22 clubs on their shoulders.
Seven games have yielded five points, with three of those gathered on the opening day.
The Lilywhites have so far not been able to rediscover the traits which served them so well last season.
Being defensively sound is one of them, with seven goals shipped in the last three home matches.
It is not as if the goals have dried up at the other end, with six scored in those three.
But the fragility in their own box is currently proving costly, after all finding the net six times should be bringing greater reward.
On their league travels, they have yet to score, not the most comforting of statistics as PNE head into away games this week against Leeds and Sheffield United.
Understandably, there is a cloud of frustration hanging over the fans at the moment.
Deepdale was a quiet place in the main as North End lost out to Reading, this a first win in the league for the visitors this season.
At full-time there were a few boos, more of the angst reserved for social media.
Some of that will no doubt be slung towards the top table at the fans’ forum on Monday evening – tin hat perhaps the headgear of choice.
Saturday was a frustrating watch in that twice Preston hauled themselves back into the game with equalisers but got nothing from the game.
The least they should have come out of with was a draw, and having pulled level at 2-2 in the 76th minute you felt the ascendency was with them.
Yet within five minutes, the Royals were celebrating their third goal to which Alex Neil’s men had no reply.
Neil got a mixture of stick and sympathy afterwards.
The latter came from those who feel the PNE boss was not been backed sufficiently over the summer.
Stick was dished out on this occasion for the change of system Neil went for.
Out went the usual 4-2-3-1 to be replaced by a 3-4-3.
With Ben Pearson, Ryan Ledson and Alan Browne all sat in the stand – a trio who can all put a tackle in – Neil went for the different shape to try and cover their loss.
He reasoned that an extra centre-back would give the side a stronger core when no holding midfielder was available to him.
Going forward the change of system worked okay, the stats showing 23 chances for the hosts over the course of the 90 minutes.
The fact only two of the 10 which were on target hit the back of the net, was due more to finishing and a couple of good saves from goalkeeper Sam Walker.
A scoreline which shows the shipping of three goals would suggest three at the back was not a roaring success. Mind you defending is a team effort, so to point the finger exclusively at the trio at the back would be wrong.
Others were to switch off and slip-up, Reading fully exploiting that with their goals.
While they were no great shakes, take nothing away from the visitors.
To score three times away from home is no mean feat and this was a welcome win for a team who had gone into the game bottom of the table and without a win since April, which incidentally was against PNE.
Neil has yet to fall on a settled side this term, partly through choice and partly due to player unavailability.
He made five changes for this one from the Bolton game, the suspension for Pearson, and Browne’s calf strain the enforced switches.
Andrew Hughes, Brandon Barker and Graham Burke dropped down to the bench.
In came Darnell Fisher, Josh Earl, Tom Barkhuizen, Daniel Johnson and Louis Moult to the XI.
I liked what Earl was able to contribute in the wing-back role on the left.
Going forward, especially, the teenager caught the eye, putting in some good crosses and setting up the second goal.
Barkhuizen offered plenty early on, his header from a Robinson cross hitting the inside of the post.
He was to fade as the game wore on – it was his pass which was intercepted to set the ball rolling for Reading’s third goal.
The header against the post came in a decent enough opening for Preston, in what was their best spell of the game.
Four chances fell their way before Reading took the lead.
John Swift seemed to climb on the back of Paul Gallagher as they challenged in the air five yards outside the box.
But as PNE appealed for a free-kick, Swift lifted the ball over the back line to release Sam Baldock in the box, the former Brighton man hitting a shot across Declan Rudd into the far corner.
It was the first time PNE had been behind at home this season, parity restored within nine minutes, a left-foot shot from Johnson from the edge of the ‘D’ deflecting off Liam Moore and into the net.
Soon after, Moult’s pass played Robinson in behind the Reading defence.
On the angle, he rolled a shot across goal and watched it go the wrong side of the post. PNE’s start to the second half suggested they would be on the front foot for much of it but seven minutes in, they fell behind for a second time.
They were undone by a short-corner routine, Johnson and Earl drawn towards Swift as he got the ball from Sone Aluko. Swift back-heeled it into Aluko’s path, who crossed low for Tiago
Ilori to slide in and finish emphatically from close range.
Back came PNE a second time, Lukas Nmecha rolling a pass to Earl, who worked his way into the box and hit a low shot which Robinson got the final touch to.
Game on. Victory on the horizon? Unfortunately it was Reading collecting the points.
Liam Kelly carried the ball into the Preston half on the counter-attack, playing in sub Josh Sims down the right. He pulled the ball back from the byline for Leandro Bacuna to net from five yards.