PNE fans' panel verdicts
JOHN ROPER:All play-off hope is not lost as North End produced one of the displays of the season in beating high-flying Reading 3-0 at Deepdale.
It was a right Royal performance from Simon Grayson’s boys as North End weathered an early spell from the visitors. But from the moment Tom Barkhuizen beautifully swept home for the first goal the result was never in doubt. Barkhuizen certainly raised some eyebrows with his man of the match performance but you can only assume there is much more to come from the tall ex-Morecambe forward who just seems a natural footballer. North End were in complete control before the break when Daryl Horgan prodded home and when the man of the match made it three early in the second half, the game was effectively over and Jaap Stam and his boys were left looking shell-shocked by dominant North End, who fully deserved the comprehensive win with a scoreline that did not flatter the home side in the least. North End started the game playing 4-4-2 with Johnson in for Gallagher and Horgan back in the side at the expense of Robinson. To be fair to the visitors they were probably the better side for the first quarter of the game and the North End defence were kept busy with Chris Maxwell making a couple of excellent saves. North End seemed to suss Reading out, though, after this opening period and started to close them down a little quicker, working on the theory that they couldn’t beat us in the air, if we won the battle on the floor then we would win the game. That is exactly how it turned out and when Horgan ran down the right and laid a beautiful ball back, Barkhuizen swept home superbly and North End were on their way. There was more to come from Barhuizen who beat two players in his own half and then went past the centre-back like he was stood in a bucket of cement only for the ball to eventually fall to Horgan, who calmly prodded home to put North End two up before the break. North End started the second half like they had ended the first and that was in complete control of proceedings. Pressure was mounting on the home defence right from the kick off and when a Horgan free kick found Hugill on the back pos,t the leading scorer just helped the ball goalwards for Barkhuizen to gently lob into the net and put the game beyond any reasonable doubt. So with Sheffield Wednesday losing the gap to the play-offs is now down to six points and with nine games to go North End must still believe that they can do it. The performance on Saturday was a top six performance there is no doubt about that and if North End can produce that for the next nine game then who knows what could happen.
For this fan, the emergence of Spring was evident at Deepdale on Saturday as the Barkhuizen-McGeady show rolled onto the hallowed turf for one of the most satisfying games I’ve witnessed for a long time. The pair dominated the game in a deserved victory against a strong Reading side that is expected to be in the play-offs come May. Equally satisfying was the support of the other players, as no one in the famous Lilywhite shirt fell short in a ‘team-plus’ performance. To be clear, Reading are a fast, skilful side who like to play the passing game; with their current league position a true reflection of their worth. However, there will not be many times this season when they come up against two opposition players on the same kind of form as Aiden McGeady and Tom Barkhuizen. In reality, Barkhuizen’s brace should have been a hat-trick as he allowed the impressive Daryl Horgan to strike the opportunity he had brilliantly created for a scruffy second goal that was easier for Tom to convert himself. Never mind that, four goals in three games is a brilliant start, especially against the backdrop of stepping up from League Two to the Championship following his transfer from Morecambe. What I like about this player, in particular, is not just his pace. Many an ‘average’ player has enjoyed a good career in the beautiful game if possessed of Cheetah-like qualities . No, it is this combined with his touch on the ball that adds up to something different at this level. Early days yes, but me and every other PNE fan, we will be hoping this continues to grow as he adapts to a higher level. As for McGeady, some of his play and moves took your breath away, with a double spin turn and tip-tap around two of the visiting players probably a move that will stick in the memory for a long time to come.